'N Space

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For now, the only backer officially on board is Radio Shack, though it's rumored that Procter & Gamble, MTV and an unspecified major soft-drink company are ponying up, too. Every inch of Bass' spacesuit is up for sale, NASCAR-style. So, for that matter, is the rocket. According to the Washington Post, computer-generated corporate logos will appear on the side of the ship, varied according to market much like Fox does with baseball.

It's also rumored that Bass will be filming commercials in space for his backers. Specifically, Bass is said to be making a hair-gel spot, and judging by the amount he wore to the news conference, you should believe that. He will only be allowed 5 kilos of personal belongings on board, so whatever he endorses had better not weigh much. (And that, as it happens, is a pretty accurate description of the music he says he's taking with him: Faith Hill and Tim McGraw.)

But the Russians are playing hardball. In recent weeks, they've said that if they don't get mad cash by certain deadlines they keep extending, they will send ballast in Bass' seat instead of the singer. Things came to a head September 3, when the Russians told the singer to pack up his gel and the rest of his well-stocked Dopp kit and get out of Star City. Whether this is more grist for Celebrity Mission or the end of Bass' dream is unclear at press time, but it would seem that there's too much money on the line to back out now. Money already spent, money not yet spent that the Russians really need and money Krieff and his backers will have to spend in litigation if Bass doesn't go to space. Already the pop star has spent months training and even undergone minor heart surgery to correct a slightly irregular heartbeat.

"I have no doubt in my mind that I will be on that flight this October," Bass said, "and enjoying every minute of it." When asked what he would do should he not get to go, Bass replied, "Probably cry." And then he would sue the crap out of somebody.

For its part, NASA management harrumphed awhile for the sake of appearances, but Krieff's scheme suits them to a T. They get tons of press and the opportunity to capture the hearts and minds of a generation of kids. And since Bass is going up in a Russian rocket, our government agency doesn't look like it's for sale. The space program also gets tons of free advertising for the Space Camps in Alabama and Florida. And they're touting that old Sputnik-era truism--that Bass' mission will spur interest in science and math (though it seems more likely to interest would-be accountants than future astrophysicists).

NASA astronauts, on the other hand, are genuinely upset. John Glenn recently likened using the International Space Station as a tourist attraction to turning a hospital ward into a hot dog stand. "I don't think we should be encouraging that," he told reporters at an earlier news conference. Fellow Right Stuffer Wally Schirra added, "John is not in synch."

Meanwhile, at Bass' dog-and-pony show, a Popular Mechanics scribe with a Russian accent asked the singer if he was comfortable climbing atop a ballistic missile designed to deliver nuclear warheads and getting launched 225 miles into space in 10 minutes. Bass admitted he was a little scared, but added he had a lot of confidence in the two real space men accompanying him.

Puritanical ladies in both Houston and by phone in Cape Canaveral demanded to know if Bass was going to warn kids from space not to smoke or drink. "No, that's not part of my mission," he replied flatly. "I'll do that on Earth, but not in space." (Subtext: "Yeah, lady, I'm gonna spend a year in rigorous training, undergo heart surgery and risk my life zooming into orbit on a rickety Russian rocket so I can tell the kiddies to just say no. I have personal-electronics commericals to make, for chrissakes.") Let's send up Liam Gallagher; at least he'd come up with an appropriate comeback like, "Planet Earth is blue, and there's nothing I can do, man."

Sergei Zalotin, the captain of Bass' ship, said he was skeptical about Bass at first but grew to respect his dedication over time. There was some disagreement over the course of the news conference as to whether Bass "would bring a lot to the mission" or whether he simply "wouldn't be a nuisance."

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John Nova Lomax
Contact: John Nova Lomax