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NASA still hopes to stop space tourist flight

Russia signs off on Tito's mission

Dennis Tito
Dennis Tito  

April 11, 2001
Web posted at: 4:11 p.m. EDT (2011 GMT)

Moscow, RUSSIA (CNN) -- A Russian government committee that gives clearance for cosmonaut missions on Wednesday approved the trip of Dennis Tito to the international space station. But the United States still hopes to prevent the California financier's flight into space.

The Interdepartmental Committee gave final authorization on Wednesday, the day after Tito performed his final test, practicing in a Russian Soyuz capsule simulator near Moscow.

But NASA said that there is still time to convince the Russian space agency not to send Tito on the April 28 Soyuz flight. NASA will meet next week and discuss the standoff with other partners building Alpha, including Russia, Europe, Japan and Canada.

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"We're looking at the options we have available. We still feel this is not an appropriate time for him to fly, as do the other partners," NASA spokesperson Dwayne Brown said Wednesday.

Tito a former NASA rocket scientist who became an investment tycoon, paid $20 million to the cash-strapped Russian space program for the weeklong visit to Alpha, which would make him the first tourist in space.

The 60-year-old entrepreneur would fly in an empty seat alongside two cosmonauts on a Soyuz taxi flight. Russia, as part of its space station responsibilities, agreed to deliver a fresh Soyuz to Alpha every six months.

The three-person Alpha crew would use one of the docked spacecraft as an emergency lifeboat to return to Earth if necessary.

International space station Alpha
International space station Alpha

Despite NASA protests, the current space station agreements seem to give Russia complete control over who flies on the Soyuz taxi missions.

NASA disapproves of Tito's flight, arguing that he lacks the necessary training and Russian language skills to ensure his safety or that of the Soyuz or Alpha crews. The agency hopes to delay Tito's trip to the fledgling space station until at least October.

Tito has trained for almost a year in Russia for the mission. Last month, NASA prevented him from joining his cosmonaut colleagues in training on U.S. systems to prepare for the flight.

Would NASA prevent Tito from entering the station? "I won't speculate on that. There's still time to resolve the issue," NASA spokesman Dave Drachlis said.

Earlier, a NASA astronaut aboard the space station said the Alpha crew would not bar Tito from U.S. sections of the space station, should he arrive with the Soyuz.

Alpha currently is staffed by Russian commander Yury Usachev and U.S. astronauts Susan Helms and Jim Voss.

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International space station Alpha

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