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HoustonChronicle.com 
Section: Space Chronicle
International Space Station 


HOUSTON CHRONICLE
http://www.chron.com/content/interactive/space/station/stories/2000/20001
126.html
Recent news

Millionaire awaiting ride to space station 
By MARCIA DUNN 
Associated Press 

STAR CITY, Russia -- For years, people have talked of traveling to space
as tourists, but it has only been talk -- until now. 

Dennis Tito, who started dreaming of space flight when he watched Sputnik
as a teen-ager, who worked as a rocket scientist charting paths to
planets, then switched to investing and became a multimillionaire, has a
ticket to ride. 

The fit, 60-year-old Californian has left his 30,000-square-foot Pacific
Palisades mansion for two rooms in the Star City cosmonaut training
center in Russia to prepare for the launch, which could come early next
year. 

He has deposited millions of dollars -- each one worth 28 rubles -- in an
escrow account, to be released to the cash-strapped Russian space
authorities the moment he is launched as the first space tourist, but not
a millisecond before. 

That's all in his contract, his ticket. 

"The key is launch," Tito said recently during an interview in Star City.
"All they have to do is light the rockets and the escrow opens up and
they get all the money. And it's a lot of money. ... There's a real
strong incentive, I think, for the Russians to fly me." 

But the question remains: Which space station will he fly to? 

There's a chance, however slight, it will be a turn-out-the-lights
mission in January to the Russian Space Agency's abandoned Mir. A suicide
dive is planned for February, and a crew will be sent beforehand only if
a problem in preparations arises. 

More likely it will be a taxi ride to the newly occupied, NASA-led
international space station Alpha. In April, the attached Soyuz capsule,
the crew's lifeboat, needs to be replaced. 

Tito says the pendulum has swung toward Alpha in light of Russia's recent
decision to ditch Mir. Either way, if he hasn't left Earth by June 30,
2001, the deal's off. That's also in his contract. 

"I just hope this doesn't become some kind of a political mess between
the two agencies or the two countries," he says with a sigh at the end of
the training day, weary from the uncertainty surrounding his promised
mission, not from the work. 

A clash of titans, though, may be coming. 

Yuri Semyonov, president and general designer of Russia's RSC Energia
corporation, says he's committed to honoring Tito's contract. 

He doesn't need NASA's or anyone else's permission to launch Tito on a
Soyuz capsule to Mir, or to the international space station if Mir can be
decommissioned by autopilot, Semyonov says huffily. 

NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin finds the whole matter distasteful. It's
wrong, he contends, to peddle spaceship seats to rich guys looking for
fun. 

"I can't tell the Russians what to do. They're a sovereign program, a
sovereign nation," Goldin says. "But we do have a part to play in it
because the lives, the safety of the astronauts are at stake," along with
the future of the space station. 

The NASA chief worries that Tito's deal could spur ticket demand for the
international space station. And yet, he says, spare seats on Russian
Soyuz rockets should go to European or Japanese astronauts who have been
training for years, not to wealthy "spectators." 

The would-be space tourist insists he's more than a spectator. 

The oldest child of working-class Italian immigrants became smitten with
space the same way many did: with the launch of the Soviet Union's
Sputnik in 1957. 

"That opened the Space Age," he says, his eyes bright with the
recollection. "To have experienced the excitement of seeing the first
Earth satellite and then at the same time experiencing the fear that the
Soviet Union was way ahead of us in technology ... what I saw when I was
17 led me to enroll in aerospace engineering the next year." 

 
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