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Russian space tourist may fly in 2009

Negotiations could result in the flight of the first paying Russian space passenger to the international space station in 2009, the head of Russia's space agency said Friday.
/ Source: msnbc.com staff and news service reports

Negotiations could result in the flight of the first paying Russian space passenger to the international space station in 2009, the head of Russia's space agency said Friday.

Of the five space passengers who have paid the $20 million to $25 million fare for similar trips, four are U.S. citizens and one is from South Africa.

The head of Russia's Federal Space Agency, Anatoly Perminov, told reporters that negotiations with a Russian would-be space tourist were under way, but he refused to give his name. "All I can say is that it's a serious, respectable person, a businessman and politician. Also young," he said.

Space tourism has so far been an extreme niche market for wealthy foreigners at Russia's Federal Space Agency. But the cash-strapped agency has made the most of the publicity generated by sending intensely trained amateurs aboard its Soyuz TMA rockets from the launch pad Russia rents in Kazakhstan to link up with the international space station.

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In April, U.S. software billionaire Charles Simonyi arrived at the station with a hamper of gourmet food from no less than lifestyle guru Martha Stewart to celebrate Russian Cosmonaut's Day during his 10-day trip.

Simonyi's flight, like the four earlier flights by paying passengers, was brokered by Virginia-based Space Adventures. The company recently said it reserved two seats on future Soyuz craft with a price tag of $40 million each, for the fall of 2008 and the spring of 2009.

Space Adventures spokeswoman Stacey Tearne declined to comment on Perminov's statement, citing the company's policy of not discussing the status of negotiations until contracts are signed. She told MSNBC.com that the identity of the next space passenger, previously said to be an American, could be revealed as early as October.

This report includes information from Reuters and MSNBC.com.