What initially seemed like a pop star's delusional space fantasy is looking more like a genuine effort to make history, as 'N Sync's Lance Bass has signed an initial contract with Russia's space agency to join an October Soyuz flight to the International Space Station.
"Lance Bass has signed a preliminary contract, he is officially a candidate," a spokesman for Russia's Rosaviakosmos confirmed to Reuters. "Whether he actually flies or not is a question that will be decided in the near future."
Bass begins his training this week in Russia, but there are still several obstacles for the 23-year-old popster to hurdle before getting the final go-ahead. Last week, NASA raised concerns about Bass' education level and his fluency of the Russian language. NASA officials asked for a review of Bass' medical background and more information about what he planned to accomplish while at the station, and they also reportedly questioned whether Bass' mission (which is being eyed for a reality series) will disrupt other work going on in space.
Bass' trip still must be approved by the Multilateral Crew Operations Panel, a board of international space partners. But Russian space officials say they're confident the 'N Syncer (who must fork over a reported $20 million for a seat on the mission) is qualified and ready for the flight.
"Within a week he will begin training, and he should be able to cover enough ground," the spokesman told Reuters, adding that Bass will learn the "necessary words" to communicate in Russian.
While earlier reports stated that Bass' training would drop him into the Black Sea and into a wolf-infested Russian forest to test his survival skills, another Russian expert claims Bass only really needs a few simple directions.
"All he needs to know is how to put his suit on and what not to touch," said Igor Marinin of the journal Novosti Kosmonavtiki. "We could even train a monkey to do this--in less time than that."
Sure, but what about a Monkee?
Either way, Bass is certainly getting props these days as the most ambitious member of his chart-topping group. Sure, Justin Timberlake's been secretly recording a solo album, and Joey Fatone is starring onstage in Rent...but Bass is training to go into friggin' space. JC Chasez and Chris Kirkpatrick might just have to run for office to beat that one. (Please guys, don't get any ideas.)
If he pulls it off, Bass will become the youngest person to ever go into orbit, and only the third cash-wielding tourist--behind U.S. millionaire Dennis Tito and South African Mark Shuttleworth--to do so.