Originally created 11/18/02

Russian TV network offering a prize that is out of this world



MOSCOW - Bob Barker gives away new cars. Pat Sajak let you spin the wheel for cash and other prizes. But a Russian television network plans to make both those shows look like misers.

The country's main state television network, Channel One, has reached a $20 million deal with the Russian space agency to send one lucky contestant to the International Space Station next year.

Channel One said it will select 20 candidates from around the world to train at the Star City cosmonaut training center near Moscow. It is not known how the winner would be chosen from those 20, but the program - with an audience of voters involved - is expected to join the reality-show genre.

"The competitors will pay nothing. This is an opportunity for ordinary people who are not millionaires to discover space," Sergei Gorbunov, spokesman for the Rosaviakosmos space agency, told the Itar-Tass news agency.

The cash-strapped Russians have sent two "space tourists" to the ISS in recent years because the price was right: American Denis Tito and South African Mark Shuttleworth paid $20 million each. The space agency planned to send pop star Lance Bass into orbit, but his financial backers failed to make the payments on time.

The agency has expressed its desire to send an "ordinary Russian" into space, but Channel One said the contest will be open to people of all nationalities.

"This show will be a world premiere, and we plan to have people from different countries taking part in it," said Alexander Lyubimov, the network's deputy chief.

Contestants will have to pass a series of tests to verify that they meet the physical and psychological requirements for space travel. They will also be required to speak English.

It will be a "non-stop process that will weed out all but the fittest. And all this will happen in front of the cameras," the station said. "Only the strongest will fly to the stars."

The Soyuz rocket that would take the winner to space is to blast off next October.

(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.shns.com.)