Russia's space agency has signed a contract with Gregory Olsen, a spokesman said Wednesday, in a deal that would make the New Jersey millionaire scientist only the third paying passenger to visit the international space station.
Vyacheslav Davidenko, a spokesman for the Russian agency, said in Moscow that Olsen could fly to the orbiting station as early as October, when a Russian-built Soyuz spacecraft is due to bring supplies and a new crew to the station.
Olsen, a 60-year-old scientist and the founder of an infrared-imaging company, is currently in training for the flight at Russia's Star City cosmonaut complex outside Moscow. Terms of Olsen's deal were not immediately released, but the list price for a privately funded trip to the space station is $20 million.
The deal is being brokered by Virginia-based Space Adventures, the company that arranged trips for the only two other people that have traveled to the orbiting station as tourists — American Dennis Tito and South African Mark Shuttleworth.
Space Adventures spokeswoman Stacey Tearne told MSNBC.com that the deal was "another progressive step that we are very excited about." But she said Olsen "has not yet been confirmed to a crew." That announcement was expected on July 16, Tearne said.
She said Olsen was enthusiastic about the flight and was keeping up with his training at Star City. "He is becoming well-versed in all the simulations in the space station modules there," she said.
If Olsen gets final clearance for the October flight, he would fill the third seat on the Soyuz craft — alongside NASA astronaut Bill McArthur and Russian cosmonaut Valery Tokarev. After about a week on the station, Olsen would return to Earth on a different Soyuz craft with the station's current inhabitants, Russia's Sergei Krikalev and NASA's John Phillips.
Olsen, who holds advanced degrees in physics and materials science, has said he plans to bring along several of his company's state-of-the-art infrared cameras to do science experiments. For that reason he has been reluctant to accept the "tourist" label for his mission.
He began training for the flight more than a year ago, but his bid was suspended when he failed a medical exam for unspecified reasons. In May, the Russians said Olsen's health concerns had been resolved, and he was cleared to resume training.
This report includes information from The Associated Press and MSNBC's Alan Boyle.