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The Secret’s Out: American Will Go to Soviet Space Station

December 13, 1990

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Somewhere in the United States, an unidentified company is sitting on what it had hoped would remain a big secret: It has contracted with the Soviet Union to send an American to the space station Mir.

The secret is trickling out, but the company isn’t ready to say much. It had hoped to make a big, splashy announcement in January.

″We executed a contract with NPO Energia, which is the manned part of the Soviet space program,″ said Art Dula, whose Space Commerce Corp. in Houston markets Soviet space services in the United States.

What company is paying for it and why?

Dula wouldn’t say, explaining that secrecy is part of the contract.

The Soviets - for a hefty price - have taken passengers of a variety of nationalities aboard their space station. They have included a Frenchman, a Cuban, an East German, and, this month, Japanese journalist Toyohiro Akiyama.

But there’s never been an American.

The weekly newspaper Space News on Monday was the first to reveal the secret, with only the sketchy information that the unknown company’s cost will be more than the $12 million the Tokyo Broadcasting Service paid to the Glavkosmos space agency. Other news accounts then repeated that information.

Dula’s associate, Bill Wirin of Colorado Springs, Colo., said Space Commerce Corp. signed the deal in Moscow on Nov. 30.

″Our company policy is that we never discuss what we are doing without approval from our partners,″ he said.

Wirin called the contract ″another sign of the warming relationship between the Soviets and the United States on a commercial basis, at a time when the U.S. is talking about giving them food.″

Wirin, like Dula, said he’d like to say more. But he referred calls to Brown, Nelson and Associates, a Houston public relations company.

″This company has a big announcement to make, but the plan was to make that announcement in January,″ said Guy Brown, one of the principals in the company.

″The client doesn’t want to be disclosed by name. It’s an American company. I’d like to disclose more, but I’m under a restriction from them,″ he said.

Brown said the unidentified company would select the American, but would not say for what purpose.

″One check has passed hands, probably earnest money,″ Brown said. ″It’s pretty much a fait accompli.″

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