Interesting that Dennis Tito actually used to work for NASA before becoming a rich bastard and exploiting the Russian Space Agency. That said, if I was worth $200 million I might be tempted to throw down 10% of it to hang out on a space station listening to my Opera CDs.
Beats Club Med.
Of course, if a bunch of wacky Japanese investors get their way, we’ll all be throwing down $26,000.00 (the cost of a New York Steak in Tokyo) to hop on their re-usable rocket to lounge on a space station by 2016.
American Fulfills Joy-Ride Dream Russian Rocket Lifts Tourist Into Space
By Peter Baker Washington Post Foreign Service Sunday, April 29, 2001; Page A17
KOROLYOV, Russia, April 28 — If it weren’t for the spacesuit and roaring engines, it might have been difficult to tell that Dennis Tito was fulfilling a lifelong dream to travel to the stars. As a Russian rocket lifted off today, the American millionaire sat calmly and quietly, his face virtually free of emotion.
No whoops of joy. No cry of fear. His one concession to expression was a quick little wave to the television camera in the Soyuz capsule. Mostly, he sat stoically, studying the instruction sheet in his hand, almost as if he were checking out his stock portfolio.
If so, it would be a stock portfolio that’s $20 million lighter as a result of today’s flight. Forty years almost to the day after launching the first human into space, Russia today sent off the world’s first paying space tourist and, in the process, ushered in a new era in the commercialization of the cosmos. Although other amateurs have ridden into space before, Tito was the first to dig into his own pocket to buy a ticket.
And what a ticket. Tito snagged a window seat, giving him a priceless view of his planet as he circles it every 90 minutes at a clip of nearly 18,000 miles per hour. He had dreamed of this moment since he heard about the first Sputnik as a teenager. He had fought the NASA bureaucracy that had tried to stop him from going. Yet in the end, he reacted with all the reserve of a soft-spoken, 60-year-old investor from Los Angeles who owns a Ferrari but insists he doesn’t drive it very fast.
“How do you feel, Dennis?” he was asked from the ground. “Khorosho,” he answered in Russian. “Good.”
The launch went off at 3:37 a.m. EDT, right on schedule, as Tito’s girlfriend, ex-wife and children watched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Within minutes, he and cosmonauts Talgat Musabayev and Yuri Baturin were in orbit, prompting applause among the technicians here at mission control near Moscow.
Despite the objections of the United States and others, the financially challenged Russian space program hopes Tito won’t be the last to pay for a seat aboard one of its rockets and a tour of the international space station. His $20 million — the last installment will clear the bank only after he returns safely — will pay for this mission plus a good deal more. According to one Russian official, a Soyuz mission costs about $10 million.
“It’s a precedent,” said mission control chief Vladimir Solovyov. “Let’s hope that interest [in space tourism] will be shown. There are a lot of rich people. Why shouldn’t they fly for their own pleasure?”
One such customer might be “Titanic” director James Cameron, who has indicated interest in going next. “If he will sign a contract, every citizen of the planet [can ride] if his health permits him and he comes through with the money,” said Yuri Grigoryev, deputy designer at the state-run Energia rocket company. “The station is open to commercialization.”
Such prospects could reignite protests from NASA, which complained that the Russians had unilaterally forced a rookie on them while the space station remains under construction. NASA said its astronauts would have to suspend much of their work just to make sure Tito doesn’t damage anything; it gave in after Tito agreed to pay for anything he might break. But the dispute flared again in the hours before today’s launch as NASA unsuccessfully sought a delay to allow its astronauts to resolve computer problems aboard the station.
In their one compromise, Russian space officials agreed that the Soyuz TM-32 will not dock with the station until the U.S. space shuttle Endeavor departs. However, Endeavor might leave Sunday, since the crippling computer problems were fixed today, and this could clear the way for Soyuz to arrive as slated at 4:07 a.m. EDT on Monday.
For the Russian space program, the Tito controversy created tension internally as well as externally. Yuri Koptev, director of the Russian space agency, initially was leery of aggravating tensions with his U.S. partners. But Energia chief Yuri Semyonov pushed for Tito’s passage because, officials said, his corporation had not been paid for the Soyuz craft.
The matter came at a sensitive time for the proud Russian program. Just this month, it celebrated the 40th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s trailblazing space flight, an event that also highlighted the humble state of Russia’s current space efforts. Last month, Russia had to send its aging Mir space station hurtling to its demise in the Pacific Ocean and, for all the brave talk of building a “Mir-2,” the former superpower no longer has the money.
At least not without the help of a few more Titos. A onetime aerospace engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., Tito recognized as a young man that he was likely never to get into space through the usual route, so he left to work in finance. He hit it big, developing the Wilshire 5,000 stock index and building an estimated $200 million fortune.
If all goes according to plan, Tito will spend six days aboard the space station with his video camera, CD player and nine discs (eight opera and one Beatles). While he was listed as a “systems operator,” he will not be allowed to touch much and will need an escort when he visits the American section of the station.