'Of course I'm nervous' says Shuttleworth

SOUTH African space tourist Mark Shuttleworth admitted to a touch of the butterflies on Wednesday as the hours counted down to his journey into space aboard a Russian shuttle.

“Of course I’m feeling nervous, I’m not a professional astronaut,” the youthful millionaire told a press conference on the eve of his liftoff on Thursday to the International Space Station.

Mission commander Yury Gidzenko, preparing for his third space flight, told reporters that cosmonauts “should not get into a state” in the last hours before takeoff in order to conserve energy.

But he, too, admitted there would be “some nervousness” early on Thursday before the shuttle blasted off.

Shuttleworth said he hoped the flight would follow the example of Yury Gagarin, the Russian who in 1961 became the first man in space, by “taking off, flying and landing successfully.1”

He said he would be carrying with him his collection of watches, photos of his friends and family, and gifts for the crew of the ISS.

The third member of the team, Italian cosmonaut Roberto Vittori, said that everything was going to plan.

“I’ve no particular worries, though it’s not every day that you fly into space. My fellow crewmembers are extremely pleasant, and we work very well together, we get on very well,” he said.

Vittori presented his colleagues with matrioshkas, or Russian dolls, painted in their likeness.

He said he had drawn up “a long list of personal objects” to take with him, including model airplanes built by his children.

The Soyuz TM-34 shuttle is due to lift off at 0626 GMT on Thursday from the same base on the Kazakh plains that saw Gagarin start his historic journey 41 years ago. It will spend around 10 days aboard the orbiting platform.

Shuttleworth will become the second space tourist since Russia’s cash-strapped space agency last year began selling $20-million tickets to travel into space for multi-millionaires seeking an experience of a lifetime.

The first to take up the offer was Californian Dennis Tito, a 60-year-old businessman and former Nasa (US space agency) technician.

Shuttleworth also plans to carry out scientific experiments for South African universities to help combat Aids and other diseases, with a particular focus on research into HIV proteins.

In line with a long-standing tradition, the cosmonauts will late on Wednesday attend a screening of “White Sun of the Desert”, a 1970 film described as having the same importance for Russians as “Gone with the Wind” for Americans.

They will go to bed at 7.30 pm (1330 GMT) and get up at 3.30 on Thursday morning, Gidzenko said. - AFP

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