NASA's heard it through the grapevine: 'N Sync singer Lance Bass is close to clinching a deal with the Russians to fly to the international space station this fall. Dianne Murphy, a space station mana

NASA's heard it through the grapevine: 'N Sync singer Lance Bass is close to clinching a deal with the Russians to fly to the international space station this fall. Dianne Murphy, a space station manager, said yesterday (Aug. 8) that she's heard Russian officials have made progress in their contract negotiations with Bass. "But we have not gotten that official yet," she noted.

NASA already is making plans for Bass and his cosmonaut crew to visit Johnson Space Center in Houston later this month for a full week of training. He would be the third space tourist, but the first to rack up corporate sponsors and TV shows to help finance the trip. The sticker price for the one-week cruise: as much as $20 million. "They expect all that to kind of come together here very shortly," Murphy said.

Bass still needs the OK from a crew-operations panel representing the U.S., European, Japanese, Canadian and Russian space agencies. The group has been reviewing the matter since mid-July, when the Russians formally submitted Bass' name for the upcoming launch of a Soyuz spacecraft. Also along for the ride to provide a fresh space station lifeboat: a Russian cosmonaut and a Belgian astronaut.

Liftoff is scheduled for Oct. 28. The Soyuz would dock two days later and its crew would depart Nov. 7 in the capsule that's been attached to the space station since spring.

The Russians should have provided the names of the crew at least six months before the flight, to allow for adequate training and preparation. In this case, notification was three months late, essentially because of prolonged contract negotiations with Bass. Murphy said he can still fit in all the necessary training. As far as teaching him space station safety, "we can do that within a couple months," she said.

"Space flight can be very unforgiving if there's a mistake that's made," said flight director John Curry. "Those are the kinds of things that we'll make sure that all three crew members are trained for, Lance being one of them if he ends up flying... It will be just like we've done with every other crew."

At age 23, Bass would be the youngest person ever to fly in space. He also would become the first entertainer in space. Curry acknowledged his own 9-year-old daughter has taken a sudden interest in space. Before he left on a recent trip to Russia's space base, where Bass was training, she asked her father to get the singer's autograph.

"I guess that tells me something right there," Curry said with a smile. "Obviously, 9-year-olds, teenagers, those kind of people are going to be excited by such a thing." He returned home last week -- with an autograph.


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