Dennis Tito -- cost in space
Heavens-bound tourist: Let's go
(CNN) -- Dennis Tito is making final preparations to become the world's first space tourist and says he's ready to reach for the stars, despite protests from NASA.
He was set to blast off on a Russian Soyuz rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan Saturday at 3:37 a.m. EDT, then he and two Russian crew mates were to dock two days later with international space station Alpha. But continued problems aboard the station have extended the current shuttle mission, likely delaying Tito's launch.
NASA disagreed with Russia's decision to let a "nonprofessional" go to Alpha, saying Tito would be a safety risk.
But money apparently talks. Tito reportedly paid the Russian Space Agency $20 million for the trip, and Moscow refused to back down. Eventually, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the space station's other partners relented. Tito could go, they said, but he would have to be escorted whenever the tourist entered portions of Alpha built in the United States.
That was fine with Tito, who recently shared a few thoughts with CNN before heading to Baikonur.
CNN: Why travel to space on vacation?
Dennis Tito: This is not a vacation. You know, it's the fulfillment of a life's dream to fly into space. Humans have been wanting to fly all the way back since recorded history. ... We know, 100 years ago at the dawn of powered flight, how exciting that was to people.
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 -- (to) circle the Earth once every 90 minutes. And that's the furthest thing from a vacation. I've been on this planet for 60 years and now I have a chance to get off.
CNN: What are you taking with you?
Tito: I'm taking a high-quality camera, a video camera, lots of film -- something like 30 rolls of film -- a Dictaphone with extra tapes, some personal photographs. Also a CD player, with eight discs, (including) the latest Beatles album.
CNN: What's been your biggest concern about the trip?
Tito: Mainly uncertainty. We started out with the idea of going to Mir (the former Russian space station). But shortly after I began training, it was decided that the Mir was going to be de-orbited. ...I was facing a lot of uncertainty, and then, when the decision was made, it was suggested to me by the Russians that they would honor my contract by sending me to ISS.
But there was no guarantee at that point because the Russian Space Agency had not yet approved it. So I had a lot of ups and downs, and I heard a lot of rumors that there would be no way I could go -- so that was something I had to live with.
CNN: You've undergone months training in preparation for this flight, but NASA still objected. Why?
Tito: There is a concept called professional jealousy. This exists in many, many fields: doctors, actuaries, or -- even like myself -- investment professionals. We all like to think we're experts, and if somebody comes in that doesn't have exactly the same training that we do, we don't think they're qualified.
I'm not faulting the astronauts for having a special feeling about their qualifications, because they are highly qualified and they are highly competent. I think it's just a matter of accepting that space should really be for everyone. ... NASA (should) allocate one or two seats on the shuttle for citizen astronauts from all sorts of different fields: writers, composers, poets, journalists, artists -- people that could experience space and bring it back to the people on Earth.
CNN: What is your compromise with NASA?
Tito: Well, if I break it (space station), I have to buy it. So, if I break the whole station I guess I'm going to have to buy the whole station. And that's perfectly reasonable. I mean, the chances of breaking anything are so remote.
I could break something in a China shop and I'd be liable for it, so what's the difference? I also promised the Russians I wouldn't sue them either. ...I mean, this is a space mission; you cannot provide the kind of safety that you would expect in a commercial airline.
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