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Second space tourist to take stem cells, HIV experiment

Shuttleworth training in Star City, Russia
Shuttleworth training in Star City, Russia  

HOUSTON, Texas (CNN) -- South African Mark Shuttleworth hopes to become the second paid passenger to go into space, following in the footsteps of Dennis Tito by riding in a Soyuz spacecraft to the international space station.

The 28-year-old Internet tycoon, training this week at NASA's Johnson Space Center with his Russian crew-mates for the April mission, spoke with CNN's Space Correspondent Miles O'Brien. Here are highlights of the interview.

CNN: Why do you think it's so important to pay attention to (space)?

MARK SHUTTLEWORTH: Our efforts to get into space and to sustain life in space have already taught us tremendous amounts, not only about space but also about ourselves, about our physiology and biology and about technology that is important here on Earth.

A tremendous amount of learning is going on within countries that are collaborating together. It's fascinating looking at the U.S space program, the Russian space program, the international space program and watch how they interact and what they are learning.

They are learning very fast. They are going through a steep learning curve in terms of international cooperation and I think all of that is good.

CNN: Do you think it's ironic that the Russians are teaching NASA about capitalism and the free market?

SHUTTLEWORTH: Yes there is some irony in there. All I can say is my experience has been quite different than the experience of Dennis Tito, in the relationship we were able to craft with NASA.

I have been amazed at how open and constructive that relationship has been. So if there is a leapfrogging going on, one expects that NASA is learning very quickly to embrace different ideas and different ways of thinking about this.

CNN: There is resistance. Dennis Tito really ran into it (from NASA). Why do you suppose there is that resistance?

SHUTTLEWORTH: There were many factors behind the scene during preparations for Dennis Tito's flight that really did complicate the picture. And a lot of that didn't come through in the press reports or in the media.

So having learned more about what was going on at the time, I can understand each of the positions that NASA took. And again, I can only speak about my experience, which has been a very open and constructive engagement.

CNN: Take us to the actual point when you decided to do this. Was it Tito's flight that made you pick up the phone?

SHUTTLEWORTH: I had just graduated from university and I was caught up in this great Internet movement, which was incredibly exciting.

In ways, I was trying to reach the Russian space agency, but it's not the kind of request that the (Russian consulate in Cape Town, South Africa) gets everyday. Who do we speak to in the Russian space agency to talk about commercial space flight?

CNN: How much is your flight?

SHUTTLEWORTH: I think the official figure is (U.S) $20 million.

CNN: Tell us about the experiments you are going to be doing.

Most of them are biological -- cardiology, physiology experiments that come from sport sciences, university in Cape Town. We have a metabolism energy use experiment. We have a protein crystal experiment, looking at HIV and the immune system, that is very important for South Africa.

We have a stem cell development research program, which I think will be the first time stem cells are flown in space.

CNN: What do you think about space tourism in general?

SHUTTLEWORTH: The number of people who say to me that they would almost give anything to fly in space tells me there is tremendous pent-up demand for the privilege. So any organization that tells me they will be able to build a commercially viable, reusable launch vehicle is doing incredibly well.

I don't see that as part of what I am doing. In a sense, I am a privately funded space program. But this isn't a question of walking up, buying a ticket and getting a ride in space.




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