Expedition 14 commander Mike Lopez-Alegria, Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin and space tourist Anousheh Ansari are on their way to the International Space Station (ISS) on their Soyuz TMA-9, following a successful launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome.
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While most of the media attention is firmly focused on the Iranian-born American Ansari, the launch marks an extremely busy few days in the space flight arena, following Atlantis’ undocking on Sunday, the upcoming Soyuz TMA-9 launch and the undocking of Progress M-56/21P late on Monday.
In preparation for the arrival of VC11 (Visiting Crewmember #11), Expedition 14 commander Pavel Vinogradov – who will return to Earth in just over a week with Jeff Williams and Ansari – set up the SM work area for Ansari’s planned experiments during her seven day stay on the station.
That included prepping the work area with the pre-delivered equipment is vital for the success of VC11 by reducing the SFP (Spaceflight Participant)’s time spent on her program, which she paid around $20 million for the privilege.
Space tourism is a touchy subject with some sectors of the space flight community, especially when it comes to accommodating those travellers on the International Space Station. However, with the Russians needing the cash, such events are deemed necessary.
‘I was a critic of space tourism, in so far as sending people to the International Space Station – which is still under construction and not a place for the light hearted,’ said Lopez-Alegria. ‘Nether the less, I recognise the requirements the Russian Space Agency has to keep its program alive.
‘We can’t do what we’re doing without them, so if that’s the correct solution – and if someone like Ansari can be that person – then I can come realisation that not only is it good from a technical standpoint, but it’s also good from the standpoint that she represents a great dream for a lot of people.’
Ansari, co-founder and CEO of Telecom Technologies, Inc. (TTI) and multi-million co-contributor to the X-Prize foundation, was exclusively reported by this site as in training to be back up for Daisuke Enomoto of Japan, back in March, after she was spotted in preparation for training to start at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center (GCTC).
She got her chance to fly with Expedition 14, following the withdrawal of Enomoto, although that has not proven to be a problem, as she was heaped with praise by Tyurin, during Sunday’s pre-launch press conference.
‘I was sincerely surprised when we started training together by the high level of professionalism that she has shown, despite not being a professional astronaut,’ said the Russian cosmonaut. ‘She became such a natural part of our crew that we’ve been under the impression that we’ve been working together for 10 years.’
Ansari herself believes this is more than just an expensive jaunt into orbit, noting her wish to expand on the initial goals of her X prize foundation, to spread interest in private space exploration investment.
‘It’s been over 45 years since the first human travelled to space, and over those years only government agencies have been working towards the goal of space exploration,’ said Ansari. ‘In order for us to make giant steps towards space exploration, we need the private industries to get involved and help the government agencies to help make that lofty goal come true.