From the International Desk
Published 10/12/2002 12:47 PM

MOSCOW, Oct. 12 (UPI) -- A winner of a new reality show, resembling the widely popular "Survivor," will fly into space aboard a Russian spacecraft next fall on a week-long trip to the International Space Station, Russia's state-owned Channel One television network announced Saturday.

Channel One and Rosaviakosmos, Russia's space agency, have signed an agreement that will see 16 contestants in the show undergo months of training in Star City, the cosmonauts' training facilities outside Moscow, before selecting the lucky winner who will be granted a free space trip.

The show, already dubbed "unprecedented" by the Russian media, will be televised in real time and will cover all stages of training that will precede the actual launch.

The most capable participant will then join two other Russian cosmonauts in the three-man crew that is scheduled to travel to the ISS in Oct. 2003 aboard Russia's newly made Soyuz-TMA spacecraft.

"We plan to launch a TV project whose quality will match the achievements of our space industry," Channel One's Deputy General Manager Alexander Lyubimov told reporters.

"In order to do this, we will hire internationally recognized producers," he added.

Rosaviakosmos chief Yuri Koptev welcomed the deal, saying it was sure to benefit both Channel One and the agency.

Over the last two years, Rosaviakosmos has already sent space tourists to the ISS aboard Soyuz. U.S. businessman Dennis Tito and South African Internet tycoon Mark Shuttleworth had no trouble covering the mandatory $20-million-per-trip price tag and made history after completing a full course of pre-launch training in Star City.

This time, however, Rosaviakosmos will make an exception and grant a free trip to the TV show winner in an apparent attempt to boost the image of Russia's space program.

"We've been following closely the developments surrounding the organization of the space tourists' flights," Konstantin Ernst, Channel One general manager said. "That is why we have proposed to do a show that obliges us to demonstrate the achievements of our country in space and to give a chance to the show's winner to fly into space."

In recent months, the campaign to launch U.S. pop singer Lance Bass into space erupted into a scandal as Bass's sponsors failed to meet the deadline to make the payment covering the trip, forcing Rosaviakosmos to abandon the project.

Prior to the cancellation of the deal, Bass completed several months of training and was entering the final stage of his preparations for the flight.

On Friday, Russian space authorities decided to replace Bass with cosmonaut Yuri Lonchakov who will join his fellow-countryman Sergei Zalyotin and Belgian astronaut Frank De Winne in the three-man crew scheduled to travel to the ISS on Oct. 28.
Copyright 2002 United Press International