A 28-year-old South African internet tycoon will become the second space tourist after three out of five Russian Space and Aviation Agency departments have approved his mission to the International Space Station (ISS) in April 2002.

The three departments have signed an agreement that would allow South African Mark Shuttleworth to visit the ISS, according to a spokesman. The other two are expected to sign within a week. ?Today Mark had his space suit fitted,? he says. The other four ISS partners – NASA, Japan, Canada and ESA (European Space Agency) ? will still have to agree to his trip.

NASA initially objected when its Russian counterpart agreed to take 60-year-old Californian businessman Dennis Tito to the ISS in April 2001. NASA was concerned that a non-professional astronaut could cause damage to the station and endanger the crew.But the U.S. has now become interested in the idea of commercial space flight and is developing a set of criteria with ISS partners that would allow civilians to visit the space station. ?Anybody who flies will need to meet those criteria,? NASA says.

MirCorp, the company that originally planned to put tourists on the now destroyed Russian space station Mir, says it has signed another space tourist agreement with the Russian space agency. The U.S. television production company Image World Media plans to produce a game show called Ancient Astronauts. The final stage of the competition will involve cosmonaut training at the Russian Space and Aviation Agency?s headquarters near Moscow. Two seats have been reserved aboard different Soyuz spacecraft for the winners, but the other ISS partners have not yet agreed to their presence on the ISS.

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MirCorp has also signed a deal with Russia for the design, development, launch and operation of the world?s first private space station, to be called Mini Station 1. This ?space hotel? will offer room and board for up to three visitors staying up to 20 days at a time. Commercial operations will begin in 2004.

It will have a lifetime of more than 15 years, and will be serviced by both Soyuz manned transports and unmanned Progress cargo re-supply spacecraft.

?MirCorp?s Mini Station 1 agreement creates the first commercial space infrastructure — offering multiple flight opportunities under our control to a destination that will be fully supported by the private sector,? says MirCorp President Jeffrey Manber. ?It is not enough to talk about sending people to space: you need an assured means of transport, and you need a destination where the commercial customer is the first priority — not a secondary concern. MirCorp will have all of this, at very accommodating environment.?

The facility will be based on technology developed by Russia, using the country?s more than 30 years of manned space station experience. ?We have shown there is a market for a different type of customer, whether a tourist, a commercial scientist, a filmmaker or anyone who is healthy and has a dream of space travel. MirCorp?s mini-station answers this market need,? says Manber.

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