Mark Shuttleworth is about to become the first private explorer in space. The 28-year-old Internet entrepreneur from South Africa is paying his own way to fly to the space station this month aboard a Russian Soyuz. The trip was arranged by Space Adventures, the company that sent American businessman Dennis Tito to the station last April. But unlike Tito, Shuttleworth doesn’t consider himself a tourist. Shuttleworth spent almost a year in Russia training to become a full-fledged crew member. He also worked with South African medical researchers to design the experiments he will conduct in orbit, which are intended to further the study of AIDS and other diseases.
“For me, this is about experiencing cutting-edge science in an extreme environment, about reaching out to learners in Africa and inspiring them to take the hard mathematics courses instead of the easier ones, and about the personal challenges that go with working hard and being alone in a foreign environment,” says Shuttleworth. “If I had a choice between buying a ticket at a kiosk and being in space immediately, and doing it this way, there’s no doubt in my mind I’d be in this program, not the tourism one.”