TRENTON, N.J. — For more than a year, New Jersey scientist Gregory Olsen has prepared to become the third paying passenger to visit the international space station. He wishes he didn't still have 4 1/2 weeks to wait.
"I'm just anxious to go. I really wish I could go right now," he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview from Russia on Wednesday.
But Olsen and his Russian and American crewmates still have more simulations to do together in spacesuits inside a Soyuz mockup, as well as training for emergency scenarios. Until recently, he trained mostly alone, focusing on physical conditioning, studying Russian and learning how to work the communications system and other equipment on the spacecraft.
Soon their contact with others will be limited, and for the final week, completely cut off.
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"The last thing you'd want to do is catch a flu from someone and not be able to go," Olson said.
Olsen, 60, is paying $20 million for the trip, brokered by Space Adventures of Arlington, Va. It has sent two other space tourists to the space station through a partnership with Russia's space agency.
Olsen, the co-founder of New Jersey-based Sensors Unlimited, is slated to fly on a Soyuz TMA-7 with Russian cosmonaut Valery Tokarev and NASA astronaut William McArthur.
The three are to launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Oct. 1, and, two days later, dock with the space station. Olsen will spend a week there orbiting 250 miles (400 kilometers) above Earth, then return with the current space station crew on Oct. 11.
About 30 of Olsen's relatives, friends and co-workers, including his two grown daughters and 4 1/2-year-old grandson, will be on hand to watch the launch, he said.
'I just fit in'
Just three years ago, Olsen would not have been eligible because at 6-foot-1 — 6-foot-2 (188 centimeters) in space because of the lack of gravity — he was too tall for the Soyuz spacecraft.
"The Russians recently extended the seat. I just fit in," said Olsen.
The New Jersey millionaire has been training for the mission on and off since spring 2004, mostly at Russia's cosmonaut training center in Star City, near Moscow.
Physically active and a fan of country and Western dancing, Olsen worked out regularly with a trainer before lining up his trip. His flight was pushed back after doctors with the Russian space program found a medical ailment — never disclosed but since rectified. In May, he was cleared for this flight.
Olsen, who has advanced degrees in physics and materials science, made a small fortune on optic inventions. His company makes infrared imaging cameras and fiber optic communications components. Olsen is hoping to bring one of the high-tech cameras with him to do experiments in space and also is arranging for satellite linkups with schoolchildren.
Previously, Space Adventures sent American businessman Dennis Tito and South African Mark Shuttleworth up for space station visits, in 2001 and 2002, respectively.
"It's a way for the Russian space agency to bring in some well-needed money" and let civilians visits space, Olsen said.
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