The date has been set: on March 22, 2006, Brazil’s first astronaut will go into orbit. He is an Air Force lieutenant colonel (tenente-coronel aviador), Marcos César Pontes, who will travel to the International Space Station aboard a Russian Soyuz.
While in the space station, Pontes will perform nine scientific experiments developed by Brazilian researchers.
Pontes will spend eight days in the space station. He is authorized to carry 15 kilos of material for his experiments, but only 5 kilos can be brought back to Earth (the rest is discarded as space trash).
The Pontes trip into space has been baptized "Centenary Mission" by Brazilian authorities in commemoration of the one-hundredth anniversary of the first ever public flight of an aircraft, the 14 Bis, by the Brazilian aviation pioneer, Alberto Santos Dumont, in Paris, in 1906.
The president of the Brazilian Space Agency (AEB), Sergio Gaudenzi, says the Pontes mission marks the definitive arrival of Brazilian participation in the space age. "We are going to be full members of the space club," he says.
Through an agreement signed by President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and Russian authorities in October, the Pontes mission will cost about half the normal price – a steal at only US$ 10 million.
Lt. Col. Pontes was selected to be Brazil’s first astronaut in 1998 and since then had been training at the NASA space center in Houston for a trip on the American shuttle to the space station.
However, accidents with the shuttle have delayed his trip via NASA to the point where Brazilian authorities reached their agreement with the Russians to ensure that Pontes will get into space sometime in 2006 in order to commemorate the Santos Dumont anniversary.