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First Brazilian to set off for ISS onboard Russian craft in spring

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RIO-DE-JANEIRO, September 2 (RIA Novosti, Andrei Kurguzov) - Brazil's first astronaut, Colonel Marcos Pontes, will lift off to the International Space Station (ISS) in March-April 2006 onboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft, a senior official from the Federal Space Agency said Friday.

Viktor Remishevsky, the agency's deputy director, said agreement on the mission had been reached between officials of the Russian and Brazilian space agencies in the Brazilian capital.

"We have agreed that the flight will take place next spring, but now everything will depend on how soon the Brazilian parliament ratifies the agreement," Remishevsky said before adding that the figures involved in the contract were a commercial secret.

Remishevsky said there was little time to train the astronaut so the process would have to be accelerated. He added that the flight would take place if Pontes arrived in Russia before September 15.

The final agreement is to be signed before November 1, 2005.

"Brazil wants the first Brazilian space flight to happen next year, as it will be an important year for us," said Sergio Gaudenzi, the president of the Brazilian space agency.

Next year will be a hundred years since Brazilian Santos Dumont made a pioneer flight on a heavier-than-air machine.

Pontes has already undergone training at NASA's Johnson space center in Houston and obtained an astronaut certificate in 2000.

He will also receive training in Russia's Star City space training center.

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