CAPE CANAVERAL - British singer Sarah Brightman is expected to blast off in October for a 10-day stay on the International Space Station, NASA said on Thursday.
The famed soprano, who starred in Andrew Lloyd Webber's"Phantom of the Opera" will pay about US$52 million (S$68 million) for a round-trip ride aboard a Russian Soyuz capsule, said US-based Space Adventures, a privately owned firm that is arranging the trip.
Brightman, 54, will become the eighth tourist and first professional singer to visit the orbital outpost, a US$100 billion research laboratory that flies about 260 miles (418 km) above Earth. One tourist, Microsoft co-founder Charles Simonyi, made two trips.
Since NASA retired its space shuttles in 2011, Russian Soyuz capsules have been fully booked flying crew to and from the station, a project of 15 nations.
The last tourist to fly was Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte, who spent 11 days aboard the station in 2009, at a cost of about US$35 million.
A Soyuz seat for a paying passenger is available this fall because Russia needs to supply a fresh capsule to bring home two station crewmen who are planning to make unprecedented year-long stays in space. Soyuz are designed to stay in orbit for six months.
Cosmonaut and incoming station crewmember Sergey Volkov will pilot the replacement Soyuz that will carry European Space Agency astronaut Andreas Mogensen and Brightman, NASA flight director Emily Nelson said during a televised press conference on Thursday from the Johnson Space Center in Houston.
Brightman arrived in Russia this week and was scheduled to begin a nine-month training programme on Thursday, but it was postponed until next week so she could recover from a cold, Russia's ITAR-TASS news service reported.
A second aspiring space tourist, Japanese entrepreneur Satoshi Takamatsu, also arrived at Russia's Star City training centre to prepare for a spaceflight. TASS reported that he will serve as Brightman's backup if she is unable to make the trip.
Space Adventures could not be reached for comment about when Takamatsu, who would become the first Japanese tourist to visit the station, might fly.