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Russia 'plans more space tourism'

The mission is culmination of a life-long dream for Tito
The mission is the culmination of a life-long dream for Tito  

MOSCOW, Russia -- Russia is planning more space tourist flights like the one carrying American tycoon to the international space station, a senior official told Interfax news agency.

The Soyuz spacecraft carrying Dennis Tito, a 60-year-old California millionaire, who reportedly paid $20 million for the eight-day trip, and two cosmonauts blasted off on Saturday from Russia's Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Soyuz flight will arrive at the ISS early on Monday morning, just as planned, NASA engineers fixed a computer problem that meant the space shuttle Endeavour was forced to remain docked to lend assistance.

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NASA disagreed with Russia's decision to let a "non-professional" go to Alpha, saying Tito would be a safety risk. It also emphasised his trip was a one-time exemption.

But the head of the Russian space agency, Yuri Koptev, said it was discussing candidates to become the next space tourist with the owner of the Soyuz spacecrafts, Interfax reported.

"Koptev said that according to his information the next amateur cosmonaut would not be Russian," Interfax said.

Russia promised to take Tito to the ISS after it failed to ship him to its ageing Mir space station, dumped earlier this year.

NASA said there was no place for amateurs aboard the uncompleted $95 billion station co-owned by the United States, Russia, Canada, Japan and European countries.

Russia insisted Tito's mission was safe and said he would fly despite U.S. objections.

To win NASA's approval, Tito had to sign an agreement that he would not wander through American segments of the station without an escort. He also agreed to pay for anything he breaks.

Lack of cash

In a pre-flight interview with CNN, Tito said: "This is not a vacation, (it's) the fulfillment of a life's dream to fly into space.

"Only 400 people have flown in space, so that is for me a privilege to be able to actually observe the Earth from outer space, circle the Earth you know once every 90 minutes."

Koptev told Interfax the Russian space agency was working on a set of requirements for amateur candidates and rules for their missions to avoid the repetition of frictions with U.S. partners over Tito. He said such a document could be drafted by this autumn.

Russia says its decision to arrange such tours was forced by a lack of cash for its space programmes.

President Vladimir Putin said earlier this month that the government would support the space programme, one of few hi-tech areas where Russia remains competitive.

But the Russian budget cannot offer sufficient funding for the country's space ambitions.

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Endeavour docks with space station
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Report: NASA agrees to let tourist go into space
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April 18, 2001

International space station Alpha

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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