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Space Station Holidays

Earlier this year T+L profiled a new trip to Russia's Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center, which has begun offering week-long space-training courses to civilians ("My Life As a Cosmonaut," January). At the time, the Russian space agency was making plans to finally "de-orbit" its pride and glory, the 14-year-old Mir space station, which had become too expensive for the agency to maintain.

Well, scratch that. In February, a private consortium of Russian and Western investors, calling themselves MirCorp, arranged to lease Mir for an initial investment of $20 million. MirCorp expects to spend another $200 million to refurbish Mir and make it available for a number of commercial ventures, including scientific research, satellite maintenance--and, yes, tourism.

MirCorp hopes to launch its first tourist trips "by 2001." But don't get any honeymoon ideas: each Mir trip will take only one paying passenger (the Soyuz capsule that ferries you to the station has just three seats, and two are reserved for actual cosmonauts). Furthermore, the two-week trip could end up costing a passenger as much as $40 million, according to Jeffrey Manber, MirCorp's president. And Mir-bound vacationers will have to undergo at least two months of intensive training before the flight. As Manber puts it, "You have to learn how to get back in case the cosmonauts die."

Apparently the risk factor and hefty price tag haven't discouraged prospective cosmo-nuts. Manber says he's been approached by three Americans--the son of a former astronaut, a "celebrated media figure," and "a prominent person in the entertainment business"--who are all eager for liftoff.

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