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US space tourist set for blast-off

Third private individual to visit ISS

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US millionaire Gregory Olsen has booked himself a quick trip to the International Space Station in April 2005.

Olsen, 58, is paying $20m for the eight-day jaunt, which is organised by extra-terrestrial package holiday specialist Space Adventures.

The intrepid native of Brooklyn will not, however, simply spend his time writing postcards and taking pictures out of the window on a disposable camera - his mission has real scientific purpose.

Olsen intends to carry out experiments on behalf of his own Sensors Unlimited: some involving infrared cameras and others concerning crystal growth. As Olsen explained to space.com: "This is primarily a science mission, though I’ll get a pleasure doing it."

The would-be astronaut leaves the US today en route to training at Russia's Star City. "We'll do our zero-gravity flights and lots of procedures on what to do both the Souyez and the International Space Station - we’ll have complete mock ups of everything in Star City," he said.

Assuming everything goes to plan, Olsen will join a very select list of private individuals who have enjoyed the ISS experience - Dennis Tito in 2001, and Mark Shuttleworth in 2002.

Meanwhile, those of us who - for fiscal reasons - remain firmly earthbound, can follow the mission's progress here. ®

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