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updated 4/3/2006 2:52:29 PM ET 2006-04-03T18:52:29

Adnan al-Maimani insists he isn't looking to be a pioneer — he just dreams of looking down on Earth. So the 40-year-old entrepreneur is paying more than $100,000 to go on the first flight traveling to the edge of space from a Mideast nation.

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The flight, which will travel about 62 miles toward space and give its passengers up to five minutes of weightlessness, is part of an American company's plan to establish a spaceport in the northern tip of the United Arab Emirates.

Virginia-based Space Adventures — the only company to have successfully sent private citizens into space — won't say when the flight will take place, only that it will be within a few years.

But al-Maimani, 40, already thinks the project will be a boost to his homeland, which has seen a boom in construction and finance the past decade.

"It's a great social and economic opportunity for the United Arab Emirates. It will create jobs and open up the economy even further," he told The Associated Press.

Al-Maimani, who owns a technology development firm, will ride a Russian-designed suborbital craft called the Explorer to the edge of space, experience weightlessness and return. The craft, capable of carrying five people, is carried first on an airplane, from which it launches on rocket power for the remainder of the journey.

"I'm not in it for the adventure. My point of view is exploration. To become richer with experience, look back at Earth and realize the potential," said al-Maimani, who will pay $102,000 for the one-hour flight.

The suborbital mission would be the first to be launched from the Middle East. Space Adventures has not announced who else will be on the Explorer's flight.

The journey has to wait until Space Adventures carries out plans it announced in February to build a commercial spaceport in Ras Al-Khaimah, the most northern of seven emirates making up the United Arab Emirates. It said Ras al-Khaimah has promised to invest $30 million in the project and has given clearance to launch suborbital spaceflights in its air space.

The spaceport will cost at least $265 million, the company said, to be funded by various parties.

Ras al-Khaimah has recently started a development push, setting up a free trade zone to attract investment and promoting several high-profile real estate projects targeting international investors, mainly from Europe.

A massive wave of construction — beach-front property, hotels and shopping malls — is hitting the emirate, a sleepy town best known for ship-building and fishing. The government has also set up a technology park, dedicated to hosting firms in the technology field.

The spaceport is likely to attract further attention, helping to consolidate the emirate's position as a rival to its larger and richer neighbors, Abu Dhabi and Dubai.

Al-Maimani must undergo a four-day training course to familiarize himself with the craft, gravity forces and other aspects of the flight.

"My family is concerned with the safety issue, so I have to reassure them all the time," al-Maimani said. "I have been interested in space exploration as long as I can remember. ... If I could fly today, I would."

Space Adventures, whose advisers include Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin and several shuttle astronauts, says 200 people have already made reservations for future suborbital spaceflights, although the program is still in a developing stage.

Space Adventures has a partnership with the Russian Federal Space Agency and previously sent American businessman Dennis Tito, scientist Gregory Olsen and South African Mark Shuttleworth on Russian rockets to the international space station. Each paid $20 million.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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