When singer Sarah Brightman launches to space in 2015 or so, she will likely be the most famous non-astronaut to reach orbit.
Brightman has signed a deal to fly in space aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket in the coming years. The classical soprano is thought to be paying upwards of $35 million for a 10-day trip to the International Space Station.
She won't be the first millionaire or billionaire to make such a journey, but she will likely be the most well-known. Brightman first gained fame starring in the original Broadway cast of "Phantom of the Opera" in 1986, and has since seen success as a global recording artist, selling 30 million classical albums and receiving more than 180 gold and platinum awards in over 40 countries.
This fame could bring positive attention to the space realm and the burgeoning field of private spaceflight, said former astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria, current president of the Commercial Spaceflight Federation. [Video: Sarah Brightman Undergoes Spaceflight Tests]
"Somebody like Sarah Brightman, who already has a big following that doesn't intersect much with NASA's — I think that nexus could be very valuable," Lopez-Alegria told SPACE.com.
As an astronaut, Lopez-Alegria flew on the Russian Soyuz TMA-9 flight on Sept. 18, 2006, which also carried Iranian-American entrepreneur Anousheh Ansari, the fourth private citizen to fly to space. Like Brightman, Ansari booked her flight through Virginia-based space tourism firm Space Adventures.
"I flew with Anousheh up on her Soyuz flight," Lopez-Alegria said. "I was a little bit of a skeptic. I wasn't convinced it was good thing."
The former astronaut recalled being quickly won over to the idea of private spaceflight, though, by observing Ansari's dedication to training and her deep enthusiasm for space — an enthusiasm she was able to share with many people on the ground.
"She was able to reach out to so many people who don't care or don't follow what's going on at NASA," Lopez-Alegria said. "That was to me very telling and obviously very valuable, because at the end of the day, NASA relies on public support."
In addition to her celebrity, Brightman brings other valuable qualities to the table as an artist-turned-space tourist, such as her creativity and musical skills. Through these abilities, she can potentially communicate the experience of spaceflight in a different way than the scientists and engineers who usually fly to space are able to. As Jodie Foster's character Ellie Arroway remarks in the movie "Contact," "they should have sent a poet."
"I've often thought it would be good to send a poet or a writer or a journalist up there who would tell the story better," Lopez-Alegria said.
Brightman, who is also a UNESCO Artist For Peace Ambassador, plans to organize a series of concerts after she returns to Earth to share her space experience. And her new album, "Dreamchaser," set to be released in January 2013, was heavily influenced by her quest to pursue space, she said.
"I hope that I can encourage others to take inspiration from my journey," Brightman said in a press conference announcing her flight last week. "I am more excited about this than anything I have done in my life to date."
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