“Let’s just say the doctors know more about me than I know about me,” Lance Bass told reporters convened for a press conference at Moscow’s Savoy Hotel.
For the last four months, the ‘NSYNC star has endured a battery of physical examinations in the pursuit of becoming the next civilian in space. On Friday (May 31), he announced that he’d finally passed the medical component of qualifying for a seat on a Russian rocket mission this fall.
“With such a thorough physical, you’re going to find things that you might need to take care of,” Bass said, explaining an outpatient procedure he underwent earlier this month in Boston to correct an irregular heartbeat, his last obstacle before finishing his centrifuge and pressurized chamber tests. “Even though that might not cause any problems in space, we wanted to check it out further, so I had a procedure, and it totally cured it…. I was surprised it worked, because I was getting down, like, ‘I’m not going to get to go.’ ”
Though getting certified by the state medical commission was a major hurdle, it doesn’t ensure a ticket to ride. “It’s a gamble,” Bass said. “I like to be positive. I’m an optimist, so I’m pretty confident that we will be able to pull this off. I know physically I can do it, I know mentally I can do it. We just have to work out the fine little details.”
Some of those little details include not-so-little matters of funding, since it costs $20 million for a civilian to join a cosmonaut crew and visit the International Space Station. But thanks to RadioShack, the first corporate sponsor to step up to the space plate, Bass has a down payment for the mission: one-fourth of the total cost. That gains the pop star entry to start training at Star City near Moscow next week. “I love Russia,” Bass said, “and I definitely can live here for the rest of this year for this mission. I can’t wait to.”
While training, Bass is determined to learn Russian, at least enough to be considered “quasi-fluent.” He said he plans to start tutoring in a week. “I can’t wait to learn a new language,” he said. “It’s going to be difficult, but I’m looking forward to it.”
Training alongside Bass will be his space tourist rival, Lori Garver, a former NASA official who has since become Bass’ backup should he be unable to go. “The plan is, I would love to go up in October,” Bass said, “and she’ll go up in April,” when the next scheduled Russian rocket would launch. (Soyuz rockets fly every six months to the ISS.)
“I have learned so much from this lady in the last two weeks,” Bass said of Garver. “We met in D.C. a month ago and I immediately loved her. She’s so brilliant and is so dedicated to this project…. She’s like a human encyclopedia when it comes to space. And I definitely wouldn’t have had so much fun without her being right there. We’ve had some good times here in Russia.”
While the two start training, they need to finalize their funding issues so that the Russian Space Agency can consider both of them as candidates. The Russian Space Agency said earlier this week that it hadn’t received proposals from either Bass or Garver and cautioned that there would be little chance for either to complete the five months of required training before the next rocket launch on October 22, and that a cosmonaut – not a space tourist – would get the seat instead.
“The Russian Space Agency has released a few things,” Bass said, “and basically, that’s because they’re telling the truth. They have not gotten a formal proposal on it yet. And what can they say when they don’t have anything in their hands? And that’s what we’re waiting on now. We had to get all our ducks in a row before we can submit a formal proposal, which is going out next week, I believe.”
Though he doesn’t anticipate any problems with his candidacy, Bass acknowledged that there is no guarantee he’ll get to blast off. “Nothing is certain, I think, with any mission,” Bass said, “up to a week before it goes up, before they choose the final crew.”
Even if Bass were selected, his worries aren’t over. The trip itself isn’t without its dangers, and the insurance polices alone are overwhelming. Bass said that he remains undaunted and keeps his eye on what he could accomplish, were he granted the opportunity. Thus far, a camera crew has been documenting his physical examinations and procedures – including the one for his irregular heartbeat – for a proposed documentary/reality show to air on a network that has yet to be announced. Showing what testing and training entails, he said, could be educational as well as drum up interest in the space program.
“Of course, there is danger in anything you do, and this is a dangerous thing,” Bass said. “But when you’re surrounded by so many incredible and brilliant people, down to the little nitpicky problems that might arise, they will know what to do. So I put my life in hundreds of people’s hands.
“I’m just excited about it,” he continued. “Of course, I’m nervous about it. I will be very nervous the day of the launch, but it’s more exciting to me…. It takes guts to do what everyone here is doing. You feel like a pioneer in creating something new. I’m glad that we’re actually bringing back interest in the space program…. It makes me feel like a great spokesperson for the space program.”
To that end, Bass hopes to conduct scientific experiments aboard the ISS, as did previous space tourist Mark Shuttleworth in April, so that he can bring something back for kids to learn about in school. Though he hadn’t determined what his focus would be just yet, he said he’s interested in environmental studies and physics.
“I’ve learned so much in the last three weeks here in Russia, things that I never knew existed: the difference between cosmonauts and astronauts and [between] NASA the Russian Space Agency,” he said, “It’s just amazing [to learn] how far they have gone and how advanced they are. I’m excited to bring that to television and to the public – the way Russia works, the way America works and how we’re all united now and finally sharing space together. That’s a huge thing to show.”