Tuesday, April 10,
Houston--He's not a Latin bandleader or a deposed
Yugoslav dictator, but millionaire investment businessman (and former aerospace
engineer) Dennis Tito aspires to be the first "space tourist." And he's
scheduled to fly with a Russian cosmonaut crew to the International Space
Station (ISS), lifting off on April 30. But NASA has pulled the welcome mat from
the station's hatch.
Last year, 60-year-old Tito paid the Russians $20 million for a flight to their Mir space station. With that out of the question due to Mir's deteriorating state (and reentry into the Earth's atmosphere earlier this month), the Russian's transferred his ticket to the ISS resupply mission. NASA contends that now is an extremely busy time in ISS construction to have an outsider unfamiliar with U.S. space systems, and without a working knowledge of Russian, onboard. The agency's position is to postpone his visit until sometime this fall, after he completes up to two months of NASA training. Wanting to get back to his family and business, Tito has refused. In March, in protest to NASA's action in excluding Tito from training for the specific resupply mission, Tito's fellow cosmonaut crewman staged a one-day walkout on NASA training for the mission. The impasse on Tito's station visit still has not been resolved.
The current Expedition crew aboard the station said they would welcome Tito to the "dinner table" if he showed up at the door.