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Sarah Brightman, British Singer, To Be Russia's Next Space Tourist

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SARAH BRIGHTMAN OUTER SPACE
AP


MOSCOW (Reuters) - British singer Sarah Brightman announced on Wednesday she had bought a seat to fly on a Russian spaceship, describing the journey as a chance to fulfil a childhood desire "beyond her wildest dreams."

Brightman, 52, who is famous for starring in "The Phantom of the Opera", plans to rocket some 250 miles above Earth to the International Space Station - becoming the first space tourist since Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte donned a red clown's nose on his 2009 trip.

"I am more excited about this than I have been about anything I have done to date," Brightman, in platform heels and a silky black dress, told reporters on a visit to Moscow. "Most of my life I have felt an incredible desire to take the journey to space that I have now begun," she said.

"This is beyond my wildest dreams."

A press conference held for the announcement in Moscow began with a music video advertising Brightman's new album "Dream Chaser", which is expected to be released in January.

The video of her crooning the album's top track "Angel" is spliced with footage of her as a child and famous moments from Soviet space history.

Brightman, a UNESCO artist for peace, said seeing fuzzy television images of the first "bouncing" human steps on the moon in 1969 when she was eight years old inspired her with the dream to travel to space.

"It was something miraculous. For me it was an epiphany," she said of the experience.

"It seemed so unrealistic and crazy at the time but I suddenly saw that it was possible," she said.

While the diva did not disclose the price tag for the trip, the ninth so far brokered by U.S. firm Space Adventures, it can be expected to be at least as much as Russia charges NASA astronauts for the privilege - more than $50 million.

The adventure package includes 12 days in orbit. Brightman said she will use her mission to promote education for women in the sciences and raise environmental awareness.

The star - who sung her about enthusiasm for space in thigh-high boots and a sequined leotard in her 1970s hit "I Lost my Heart to a Starship Trooper" - has already booked a ride on Virgin Galactic's planned suborbital SpaceShipTwo vehicle.

A decade after U.S. businessman Dennis Tito became Russia's first space tourist, the commercial space flight industry is heating up.

U.S. space agency NASA gave the industry a boost when it signaled it expects to rely on private sector "space taxis" to ferry cargo and crew to the $100-billion orbital research station after the retirement of its shuttle program last year.

To experience weightlessness on Virgin Galactic's suborbital plane, Brightman will have bought a $200,000 ticket. The firm, an offshoot of British tycoon Richard Branson's Virgin Group, expects to launch commercial service in late 2013 or 2014.

The singer will be the first space tourist aboard Russia's Soyuz spaceship since 2009 after seats on the three-person craft became scarce when NASA mothballed its shuttles, leaving Russian rockets as the only ones capable of carrying crews into orbit.

But NASA is considering doubling the amount of time an astronaut spends on the orbital station to one year - to lay the groundwork for future missions deeper into space - potentially freeing up seats for tourist from 2015.

A Russian space official Alexei Krasnov said Brightman's flight would likely be carried out in 2015.

Brightman married composer Andrew Lloyd Webber in the 1980s and pursued a chart-topping solo career after they broke up in 1990, bringing classical music to a broader audience and selling millions of records along the way.

(Reporting By Alissa De Carbonnel)

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