Later this week veteran reality TV producer Mark Burnett and his producing partner Conrad Riggs will hold a press conference in Los Angeles to announce their next venture: a long rumored space reality series.
Burnett will announce that his production company has secured an agreement made directly with the Russian Space Agency and the Russian TV Network ORT (Ostankino Russian Television) - also known as Channel 1 - to produce the first in what he hopes will be a series of television shows. The core theme: candidates will compete with one another to win a seat aboard a Soyuz mission to the International Space Station. The flight would take place in November 2003.
Burnett and Riggs have been working on this idea for several years. The negotiations for this project have been kept quiet over the past year while more public attempts, such as those made by "Astromom" Lori Garver and 'nSync's Lance Bass, sputtered. While those other prospective ventures made use of the space travel firms MirCorp and Space Adventures (who often dueled in public with each other over who did what for whom) Burnett and Riggs worked directly with Russian space agency officials.
After all the hoopla subsided over Lance Bass' abortive attempt to fly in space, it seemed that the Russians had soured on the idea of working such promotion-intensive deals. Burnett's impressive success with the "Survivor" and "EcoChallenge" series wherein he raised a lot of capital - and then turned around and made even more money for his sponsors - was apparently enough to keep the Russians engaged while other ventures got all of the public attention.
Burnett's first attempt to mount a space-based TV show was with NBC on the "Destination Mir" project. After announcing that project during the Super Bowl, "Destination Mir" slowly faded as Mir began its death spiral out of orbit. It is still unclear, however, whether NBC will be a participant in this reincarnation of the original concept.
Who will compete? This won't be "Survivor in Space". Nor will it be "tourists in space". Instead, competitors will be selected along certain lines. You can expect to see some highly qualified individuals in the line up.
Some of the qualifications? Physical health: the ability to pass an FAA Class II physical is a probable standard. Size: restrictions for a Soyuz TMA spacecraft are between 5'4" and 6'2" plus some other standards such as hip and shoulder width. Language: some facility with Russian will be required; Psychological: screening tests similar to those given to the astronaut corps. Other skills will also be sought - not just those needed on the space trip - but other talents so as to make the competitor pool all that more interesting.
You may also see some familiar names. While Lance Bass currently has no connection with this project, multiple sources have said that "Astromom" Lori Garver may be one of the selectees. Training will likely mirror that given to Lance Bass with work done in Russia, at NASA's Johnson Space Center - and elsewhere.
As to where "elsewhere" may be - or how competitors are chosen, you can expect Burnett to stick with the successful formula he has employed on his other reality TV shows.
Burnett has a penchant for secrecy with regards to the locales used for his shows. As such, one would expect this to apply to the selection and training process. Moreover, as contestants are eliminated from the show, ala "Survivor" it would be likely that they will have legal restrictions placed on what they can say about their participation in the competition.
If this show is successful Burnett and Riggs and their Russian partners envision a steady stream of shows with contestants selected from various countries.