A Soyuz rocket plastered with Japanese advertising was rolled into position Friday to carry a Japanese broadcaster into space Sunday after a truce was reached on money squabbles.
The Tokyo Broadcasting System, which is paying $10 million for the launch in a contract with the Glavkosmos space agency, complained that the Soviets were demanding wild extra money for everything from spacesuits to $10,000 an hour for Soviet cosmonauts to hold a video camera during the eight-day mission."It is not settled yet, but because the launch is so important to us and to the Soviets we have stopped the negotiations and will return to them later after the launch," said Ichiro Sasasi, a TBS executive.
By tradition all Soviet rockets leave for the launch pad at 7 a.m. because that is when Yuri Gagarin's Vostok rocket rolled out to make him the first man in space on April 12, 1961.
And precisely at 7 a.m. Friday, the Soyuz rocket that will make Toyohiro Akiyamo the first journalist in space left its assembly plant on a rail line leading right to Gagarin's launch pad No. 1.
Truck-mounted projector lights sliced through the morning darkness and lighted up the Soyuz as some of the 150 Japanese journalists scrambled to the rail bed to snap pictures of the booster emblazoned with advertisements for Sony, Ohtsuka Chemicals and Unicharm, makers of women's hygiene products.
Two hours later, Soviet space technicians wearing orange hard hats and black cold-weather gear against the 19-degree temperatures jerked the Soyuz upright with hydraulic lifts. Gantries pinioned the rocket into the firing position for the launch Sunday at 11:45 a.m.
Akiyama, 48, a former TBS bureau chief in Washington who kicked a four-pack a day cigarette habit to make the flight, will be accompanied to the Mir space station by two seasoned Soviet cosmonauts - Musa Manarov, a joint holder of the record of 366 days in space, and Viktor Afanasiev, who has tested out on every Soviet aircraft.
Akiyama's backup, Rioko Kikuchi, 26, the TBS network's first woman camera operator, suffered appendicitis Monday and was operated on in Baikonur, increasing the pressure on Akiyama to stay healthy.
"There is no contract clause for cancellations and we are not even thinking about it, but if it happens we can restart negotiations," said Sasasi, the TBS executive who fathered the mission known as "Cosmoreporter."
He said Kikuchi, a Chinese-language expert who learned Russian as part of her cosmonaut training, was feeling fine after her operation and may be able to come to the launch Sunday.
A blaze of 20 TBS cameras will cover the liftoff, including one in the control room when the launch button is pushed and one under the launch pad that will promptly melt during the blastoff.