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Image: Bass
'NSync singer Lance Bass, center, listens with fellow crew members during a news conference at Johnson Space Center in August.
By Alan Boyle Science editor
msnbc.com

Although ’N Sync singer Lance Bass no longer has a reserved seat on a spaceship, he has finished cosmonaut training at Russia’s Star City complex. It’s not yet clear whether he will get another chance at a made-for-TV space flight.

More than six months of negotiations went down the drain in September when the Russian Aviation and Space Agency formally notified other space agencies that Bass was booted off the crew for a Soyuz flight to the international space station in October.

The Russians said they grounded Bass because his private backers didn’t come up with a significant payment toward the estimated $20 million cost of his training and flight.

Bass and his backers had hoped to put together a deal to make the 23-year-old singer the star of a reality-TV series about his space saga. Among the ventures involved in the negotiations were Amsterdam-based MirCorp, Los Angeles-based Destiny Productions and the William Morris Agency, a global talent and literary agency.

Bass’ team was banking on commercial sponsors and TV executives to provide the financial support for the project. However, prospective sponsors did not deliver enough cash to the Russians in time, leading to Bass’ ouster from the Star City cosmonaut training complex this month.

Despite that setback, Bass and his negotiators remained in the Moscow area, hoping that the deal could be revived.

After days of discussions over logistics and money transfers, the Russians agreed to let Bass return to Star City and finish out his initial round of training. In October, he finally received his certification as a cosmonaut — although he would have to undergo further training if he reached a deal for a future space flight.

Sources told MSNBC.com that the Soyuz missions scheduled for next April and October loomed as possibilities. The sources said the Russians were paid for training expenses — and Russian officials indicated that Bass paid his own way.

Follow-on project
MSNBC.com’s sources signaled that Destiny Productions was in discussions with sponsors and other ventures, not only to revive the Lance Bass TV project but also to launch a follow-on reality-TV show in which a winning space-camp contestant would be given a ride into space. The bigger project could involve Pepsi and other corporations, generating more than $50 million in revenue, an industry source told MSNBC.com on condition of anonymity.

Pepsi spokesman Dave DeCecco told MSNBC.com on Monday that his company was not considering an upfront sponsorship of Bass’ flight. However, that doesn’t necessarily rule out a purchase of advertising time on TV shows tied to a space flight.

In the past, Destiny Productions President David Krieff has voiced the hope that Bass’ flight would give rise to a space-oriented game show — an idea that has also been pursued by Mark Burnett, executive producer of the popular “Survivor” reality-TV series.

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Several sources told MSNBC.com that the frictions over Bass’ bid and the wider plan for a space reality television show may lead to a shift in the composition of the team pushing the effort forward — and in that context, they have referred to Burnett’s past plans. The TV production company working with Burnett has not responded to MSNBC.com’s requests for comment.

A key question hangs over all these maneuverings: Would sponsors give the Russians enough cold, hard cash to support a deal?

Money and pride
The Russians need money from would-be space passengers such as Bass to maintain their Soyuz fleet, and for that reason space officials were willing to bend some of the rules for space passenger flights as late as last month. For example, the Russians would have allowed Bass to fly with less training time than normally required. Since August, however, pride has become a factor — leading the Russians to become less flexible. Spokesmen for the Russian space agency had vowed that Bass would not fly in October even if his backers came up with $40 million.

The ups and downs of Bass’ space bid have given pause to potential sponsors as well — contributing to a cycle of mistrust. However, if Bass meets with success, that would likely help sponsors feel better about committing millions of marketing dollars to the bigger follow-on project.

If Bass does go into space anytime in the next couple of years, he would become the youngest human in space and the third paying passenger to visit the international space station.

Over the past year and a half, two space passengers — California millionaire Dennis Tito and South African Internet tycoon Mark Shuttleworth — have paid for flights to the space station. Those trips were arranged by Virginia-based Space Adventures, which has not been involved in Bass’ bid.

October’s 10-day Soyuz mission had to proceed whether or not Bass was on board. Every six months, a fresh Soyuz escape capsule is delivered to the space station to replace the old one. Russian cosmonaut Yuri Lonchakov took Bass’ place on the trip, flying alongside his professional colleagues, Russia’s Sergei Zalyotin and Belgium’s Frank De Winne.

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