Soprano Sarah Brightman, believed to be one of the world's wealthiest classical crossover performers, has booked a seat on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft for a 10-day visit to the International Space Station.
The launch schedule has not been announced, but the first available flight is believed to be in mid- to late-2015.
"As I'm sure you may know, I'm planning to become a spaceflight participant and have been recently approved to begin my spaceflight training by the Russian space federation, having passed the necessary medical and physical tests," she said today, reading prepared remarks at a news conference in Moscow.
"The final scheduling and details of my trip by Soyuz rocket to the International Space Station will be determined very shortly by Roscosmos and the ISS partners," she noted.
Brightman said she will go on tour next year to promote a new album, visiting five continents before returning to Russia to begin six months of mission-specific training.
"This extraordinary voyage has been many months in the planning but more accurately, has been many years in the making," she said. "Throughout most of my life, I felt an incredible desire to take the journey to space that I have now begun."
She said her dream began in 1969 when she was 8 years old watching Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon
"There, as a small an incredulous child, I watched a man bound gently from the steps of a rocket ship and land on the surface of the moon," she said. "This really was an adventure, it was something miraculous. For me, it was an epiphany.
"A journey into space is the greatest adventure I can imagine. The opportunity to orbit the Earth, witnessing multiple sunrises and sunsets every day, looking back to our small blue life-sustaining jewel from a distance gives me the greatest sense of anticipation."
The Russians launched eight "spaceflight participants" to the station between 2001 and 2008, including one who flew twice. Seven of those were considered space tourists, paying between $20 million and $50 million per flight. The flights were arranged by Space Adventures of Vienna, which is also working with Brightman.
But tourists flights have been on hold in recent years with all available Soyuz seats booked for professional astronauts and cosmonauts making up the station's six-member crew. A NASA contract with the Russian space agency effectively reserves all non-Russian seats for U.S., European, Canadian, and Japanese astronauts.
Last week, however, NASA and the Russians announced plans for an American astronaut and a Russian cosmonaut to spend a full year aboard the space station in 2015-16 -- twice as long as current crews -- to collect medical data on long-duration spaceflight. That will free up two Soyuz seats for paying customers, including one for Brightman.
In their latest contract with NASA, the Russians charge more than $60 million for training and a seat for Soyuz flights to and from the space station. Eric Anderson, president of Space Adventures, would not say how much Brightman is being charged, but he jokingly assured the questioner that "it is a round-trip ticket."
NASA and Roscosmos, the Russian federal space agency, plan to announce who will fly the yearlong mission in the next few weeks. The crew members are expected to take off in March 2015 aboard the Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft, accompanied by a Russian spacecraft commander who will stay aboard the lab for a normal six-month tour.
Under that scenario, the next Soyuz in the rotation, TMA-17M, would launch with a three-person station crew the following May. The Soyuz after that, TMA-18M, would take off that September or October 2015, presumably carrying Brightman to the space station along with a Russian commander and, perhaps, a second tourist.
Brightman would spend about 10 days aboard the lab complex and return to Earth aboard the Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft with the same commander who ferried the long-duration crew to orbit the previous March.
"I have no idea, really, at this moment what the feeling will be like," Brightman said of flying in space. "Obviously, one has to get that information from other cosmonauts who have been up there and astronauts also.
"My music has always been inspired by space. Seeing the first man on the moon back in the '60s actually inspired me and gave me the courage to go into the career that I have. I have to say, at moments when I'm feeling nervous on stage or when I'm feeling unsure, I actually look to the stars and the planets and space and it gives me courage and inspiration."
Brightman said she plans to work with UNESCO to effectively communicate that excitement to young girls around the world to spark an interest in science education and the idea of sustainability.
"I'm not an expert in the field of sustainability, but I do understand that tackling poverty is key for us to have any chance of minimizing its impact." she said. "Educating girls is one of the best sustainable investments any of us can make. Girls in poor countries who benefit from education go on to create self-sufficient communities. They invest in their families and improve the lives of those around them. Not surprisingly, we aim to help the cause of educating girls in poor countries.
"We also want to use this voyage to bring more girls, not just those in poor countries, but from around the world into the educational fold and hopefully enable many of them to further advance into science and technology. It's in everyone's interest to help close the gender gap in the sciences."