Image: Ansar and Enomoto
Energia
Iranian-born businesswoman Anousheh Ansari sits alongside Japanese entrepreneur Daisuke Enomoto during cosmonaut training in May. Ansari is likely to replace Enomoto on a September flight to the international space station, a Russian official says.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 8/23/2006 3:48:00 PM ET 2006-08-23T19:48:00

A Japanese space tourist who had hoped to blast off on board a Russian rocket next month was deemed unfit for the trip, and he will be replaced by an Iranian-American woman entrepreneur and space-race backer, according to Russian reports.

Japanese entrepreneur Daisuke Enomoto had been due to lift off in a Soyuz capsule from Russia's Baikonur cosmodrome in the Kazakh steppes to the international space station on Sept. 14. But a medical commission found he was unfit for the 10-day journey.

"I cannot give you the precise details of the medical checks, but it looks like Iranian-born U.S. businesswoman Anousheh Ansari will fly instead of him," Igor Panarin, spokesman for the Russian Space Agency, told Reuters on Monday. "I believe the state (spaceflight) commission will approve Ansari's flight by the end of this week."

On Tuesday, Russian newsoutlets quoted Panarin as saying the space agency's Board of Chief Designers had approved Ansari's flight — and that the arrangements would be "formalized" next week.

Ansari, 38, and her brother-in-law, Amir Ansari, were the principal backers of the $10 million Ansari X Prize for private spaceflight, which was won in October 2004 by the SpaceShipOne rocket plane. The Ansaris are said to have put up an amount on the order of $2 million, which enabled the X Prize's organizers to keep up a "hole-in-one" insurance policy that actually paid out the $10 million purse.

Members of the Ansari family emigrated to the United States after the fall of Iran's shah in 1979, and made their fortune in the telecommunications business. Anousheh and Amir Ansari —along with Anousheh's husband, Hamid — are partners in Prodea, a Texas-based investment firm that is backing an effort to build suborbital spaceships for tourist flights.

Anousheh Ansari would be the world's fourth space passenger to pay for a trip to the space station, and the first woman to do so. California millionaire Dennis Tito pioneered space tourism, flying to the space station in April 2001. He was followed by South African Mark Shuttleworth in April 2002, and New Jersey scientist/businessman Greg Olsen in October 2005.

Olsen's flight came after he was temporarily judged unfit for flight for medical reasons, and Enomoto could similarly be found eligible for a future flight. Enomoto, 35, made much of his fortune by virtue of his involvement with the Japanese Internet firm Livedoor. That company has been the focus of a securities fraud investigation in Japan, but Enomoto has not been implicated in the scandal.

Although Russian officials keep their contracts confidential, space passengers are said to pay about $20 million for the trip and a 10-day stay in orbit.

Others, including British lottery winner Helen Sharman and Japanese TV journalist Toyohiro Akiyama, have flown to Russia's Mir space station under commercial arrangements as far back as 1990, but those passengers didn't pay their own way.

This report includes information from Reuters and MSNBC.com.

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