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Tuesday, 28 May, 2002, 13:40 GMT 14:40 UK
Afronaut mourns his 'bride'
Mark Shuttleworth
The proposal was made on a space phone-in
South Africa's space tourist Mark Shuttleworth is said to have been devastated by the death of a young teenager suffering from cancer who asked him to marry her while on his trip into space.


Mark was clearly saddened by the news

Mr Shuttleworth's spokeswoman

He was joined by former South African President Nelson Mandela in paying tribute to a teenager who reached for the stars with her daring marriage proposal.

Michelle Foster, a 14-year-old South African girl, died on Sunday - 24 days after cheekily popping the question to Mr Shuttleworth on a satellite link as he was aboard the International Space Station.

Mr Shuttleworth blasted into orbit on 25 April and spent 10 days on the station to become Africa's first space tourist.

'Marry me'

"I was wondering if you would like to marry me," the frail teenager, who had lost a leg to the disease, asked the space tourist in the presence of Nelson Mandela, who had also spoken to Mr Shuttleworth.

"I am very honoured by your question," replied a bashful Mr Shuttleworth, who later phoned the teenager from the space station.

Nelson Mandela
Mandela praised Michelle for her willpower to fight to the end

At the time, the girl's father, Gavin Foster, observed:

"She said he'd marry him, but he'd better hurry up."

Michelle's condition deteriorated as Mr Shuttleworth made his descent back to earth.

The 28-year-old multi-millionaire was kept informed about her condition and was reported to have wanted to talk to her when her condition deteriorated.

Correspondents say Mr Shuttleworth tried to set up another conversation as late as last week, but she was too weak to talk and on oxygen after the cancer spread to her lungs.

Admiration

"Mark was clearly saddened by the news, " said his personal assistant Meagan Elliot.

"He had been honoured by the opportunity to have spoken to her."

Mr Shuttleworth was told about her death as he was about to begin a business trip to the United States.

Mr Mandela's media spokesperson told reporters that the former president was shocked by her death.

International Space Station
Space tourists are a boost to Russia's contribution to the ISS

"Madiba (Mr Mandela's clan name), was shocked to hear of the death of Michelle.

"He said Michelle gained his admiration for her strength and willpower to fight to the end."

Mr Shuttleworth, who actually lives in London, followed in the footsteps of Dennis Tito, a US businessman and former American space agency (Nasa) employee, who rode into orbit last year.

He was rumoured to have paid $20m for his trip and to have bought the Soyuz capsule and his space suit.

Part of his mission was to conduct stem cell and embryology experiments designed by South African researchers.

He worked on Aids, using the weightless environment to grow near-perfect crystals of HIV proteins.

See also:

30 Apr 02 | Science/Nature
29 Apr 02 | Science/Nature
27 Apr 02 | Science/Nature
29 Apr 02 | Science/Nature
25 Apr 02 | Science/Nature
24 Apr 02 | Science/Nature
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