No funds means this mission is impossible

September 04, 2002|By Tamara Lytle | Tamara Lytle,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

As of yesterday, pop star Lance Bass was a man without a mission.

Fed up Russian space officials said Bass and the consortium backing his flight to the International Space Station hadn't paid up, so he can no longer train in Star City, Russia, for the Oct. 27 mission.

Hollywood handlers for Bass, a singer with the boy band 'N Sync, said they still were negotiating and hadn't given up making him the world's youngest person in space.

Television producer David Krieff of Destiny Productions had landed commitments from sponsors such as Radio Shack and had planned a television show about the trip. But Krieff had offered little more than promises when it came time to pay the $20 million bill, said disgruntled officials from the Russian space agency.

"It's over," said Sergei Gorbunov, spokesman for the Russian space agency, Rosaviakosmos. Reading a statement, he said Bass was notified "about the end of his training ... and the impossibility of his trip to the International Space Station."

"His sponsors didn't fulfill the conditions of the contract, and we never received the money," Gorbunov said.

Instead of sending up a telegenic singer who promised to promote space exploration among the young, the Russians said they will launch a crate of equipment weighing the same as Bass.

Bass was to blast off on a Soyuz spacecraft as the third space tourist after wealthy businessmen Dennis Tito and Mark Shuttleworth. The Soyuz makes the trip to the space station twice a year to replace a lifecraft docked there. The cash-strapped Russians came up with the idea of sending one commercial passenger on each trip as a way to keep their program afloat.

The international partners in the space station had approved Bass' trip, and he had even trained for a week in Houston alongside cosmonaut Sergei Zalyotin and Belgian astronaut Frank DeWinne. But yesterday, he was forced to pack his bags at the cosmonaut training center and move to a nearby hotel.

NASA spokesman Bob Jacobs said the agency had not been notified by Russian officials of Bass' ouster. The flight will go on with or without Bass, Jacobs said. "He had no critical role in terms of the mission itself," Jacobs said, although NASA was looking forward to Bass promoting space exploration among young people.

Spokesmen for Bass and for Krieff sang the same tune they have been singing for weeks: that they are still working out the deal and feel sure Bass will get his ride.

"The trip is not over. Lance is in Russia, and we are still in negotiations. We feel very confident that there will be a resolution soon and the trip will go on as planned," said Jill Fritzo, publicist for the 23-year-old singer.

Tamara Lytle is a reporter for the Orlando Sentinel, a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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