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UK singer Brightman to be Russia's next space tourist

Sarah Brightman sings during the Live Earth concert near the Pearl tower at the new business district in Shanghai July 7, 2007. REUTERS/Aly
Sarah Brightman sings during the Live Earth concert near the Pearl tower at the new business district in Shanghai July 7, 2007. REUTERS/Aly

By Alissa de Carbonnel

MOSCOW (Reuters) - British singer Sarah Brightman said on Wednesday she had bought a seat to fly on a Russian spaceship, describing it as a chance to live out a childhood desire "beyond her wildest dreams".

Brightman, 52, who once had a hit song called "I Lost My Heart to a Starship Trooper", plans to rocket some 250 miles above Earth to the International Space Station - becoming the first space tourist since Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte donned a red clown's nose on his 2009 trip.

"I am more excited about this than I have been about anything I have done to date," Brightman, in platform heels and a silky black dress, told reporters in Moscow.

"Most of my life I have felt an incredible desire to take the journey to space that I have now begun," she said.

"This is beyond my wildest dreams."

A news conference held for the announcement in Moscow began with a music video advertising Brightman's new album "Dream Chaser", which is expected to be released in January.

The video of her crooning the album's top track "Angel" is spliced with footage of her as a child and famous moments from Soviet space history.

Brightman, a UNESCO artist for peace, said seeing fuzzy TV images of the first human steps on the moon in 1969 when she was eight years old inspired her with the dream to travel to space.

"It was something miraculous. For me it was an epiphany," she said of the experience.

While the singer did not disclose the price tag for the trip, the ninth so far brokered by U.S. firm Space Adventures, it is expected to be upward of $35 million. Russia charges NASA astronauts more than $50 million per seat.

The adventure package includes 12 days in orbit. Brightman said she would use her mission to promote education for women in the sciences and raise environmental awareness.

The star, famous for starring in the musical "Phantom of the Opera", sang her about enthusiasm for space in thigh-high boots and a sequined leotard in her 1970s hit "I Lost my Heart to a Starship Trooper".

She has already booked a ride on Virgin Galactic's planned suborbital SpaceShipTwo vehicle.

"As a child of the 60s, with all the rockets they were sending up and the first man on the moon - space was very much in the child's understanding," she told Reuters.

"When I understood that it was possible even to take a suborbital flight suddenly it was: 'Yes, that is what I have always wanted to do. This is my dream!'"

She said she passed the rigorous pre-flight test at Russia's Star City training center outside Moscow "with flying colors".

INDUSTRY SET TO TAKE OFF

A decade after U.S. businessman Dennis Tito became Russia's first space tourist, the commercial space flight industry is heating up.

U.S. space agency NASA gave the industry a boost when it signaled it expects to rely on private sector "space taxis" to ferry cargo and crew to the $100-billion orbital research station after the retirement of its shuttle program last year.

The U.S. agency has handed Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) and Orbital Sciences Corp.(ORB.N) contracts worth a total $3.5 billion to reach that goal.

Several firms are now jostling for a position in a sector that officials in President Barack Obama's administration have estimated will be worth $1 billion in 10 years.

To experience weightlessness on Virgin Galactic's suborbital plane, Brightman will have bought a $200,000 ticket. The firm, an offshoot of British tycoon Richard Branson's Virgin Group, expects to launch commercial service in late 2013 or 2014.

The singer will be the first space tourist on Russia's Soyuz spaceship since 2009. Seats on the three-person craft became scarce when NASA mothballed its shuttles, leaving Russian rockets as the only ones capable of carrying crews into orbit.

NASA will double the amount of time an astronaut spends on the orbital station to one year - to lay the groundwork for future missions deeper into space - freeing up seats for tourists from March 2015.

Russian space official Alexei Krasnov said Brightman's flight would likely take place in the fall of 2015.

Brightman married composer Andrew Lloyd Webber in the 1980s and pursued a chart-topping solo career after they broke up in 1990, bringing classical music to a broader audience and selling millions of records along the way.

(Additional reporting by Irene Klotz; editing by Andrew Roche)

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