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Space station crew: We will welcome Tito

The Expedition Two crew. Standing, left to right, are astronaut James Voss, cosmonaut Yury Usachev and astronaut Susan Helms
The Expedition Two crew. Standing, left to right, are astronaut James Voss, cosmonaut Yury Usachev and astronaut Susan Helms  

March 30, 2001
Web posted at: 2:21 p.m. EST (1921 GMT)

(CNN) -- Besides settling into their new orbiting home, the second crew of the international space station is preparing to meet several space visitors, including an amateur who paid millions for the trip.

NASA vigorously opposes the plan of Dennis Tito to tag along with two cosmonauts in a Soyuz spacecraft when it docks with space station Alpha in a month. The Russian space program, which controls the Soyuz mission, is adamant the California investment banker will make the trip.

As the former rivals turned partners butt heads over whether Tito will fly, one U.S. astronaut on the station told reporters on Friday what the Alpha crew would do should Tito arrive without NASA's blessing.

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"We will welcome anyone who brings a new Soyuz spacecraft," Alpha crewmember Susan Helms said. "Whoever shows up on the other side of the (space station) hatch, they are welcome to the dinner table."

A pair of cosmonauts is expected to take Tito to the space station next month when they deliver a new Soyuz, a spacecraft which will serve as an emergency lifeboat for the modular complex, in orbit about 240 miles (386 km) above Earth.

Tito, 60, paid $20 million to ride in the empty third seat on the Soyuz. The former NASA rocket engineer turned financier expects to spend more than a week in space and then return with the two cosmonauts aboard an old Soyuz already docked to the station.

Helms, fellow astronaut Jim Voss and Russian cosmonaut Yury Ushachev arrived began a four-month stay aboard Alpha two weeks ago, having arrived on the space shuttle Discovery. The trio replaced the first three space station inhabitants, who returned to Earth on the shuttle.

The international space station is a 16-nation partnership led by the United States and Russia. It could cost more than $100 billion when completed later this decade.



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