Spaceflight Now: Breaking News

Star-struck businessman seeks ultimate trip to Mir

Posted: June 16, 2000 [0546 GMT/0146 EDT]

Mir orbiting Earth. Photo: NASA
A major step forward in the commercial conquest of the final frontier could be taken in January when the first private citizen, Dennis Tito, ventures to the Russian space station Mir, sources say.

Tito would be launched to the station along with two Russian cosmonauts in a mission organized by MirCorp, which successfully completed its first manned space flight on Thursday evening.

Officials are expected to formally announce Tito's mission on Monday in Moscow.

A former scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, 59-year-old Tito is now a successful businessman living in the Los Angeles-area of California.

Tito earned a bachelor's degree in astronautics and aeronautics from New York University in 1962, and later received a graduate degree. His time at JPL in the 1960s was reportedly spent developing the trajectories used by Mariner space probes launched to explore Mars and Venus.

In the early 1970s he founded Wilshire Associates, a highly successful investment management firm with offices around the world. Headquartered in Santa Monica, Calif., Wilshire advises hundreds of large pension funds.

One news interview last summer said Tito had amassed an estimated fortune of $200 million, dubbing the man "Wall Street's rocket scientist."

Neither the financial details nor the length of Tito's trip to Mir were immediately revealed.

Holland-based MirCorp was created earlier this year to establish a space hotel and commercial laboratory in low-Earth orbit using the 14-year old Mir, which Russia initially abandoned last August.

MirCorp is 60 percent owned by RSC Energia, the Russian company that built Mir, with financial investors holding the other 40 percent.

Russian cosmonauts Sergei Zalyotin and Alexander Kalery spent 73 days aboard Mir from April through this week, marking MirCorp's inaugural mission and the first privately financed manned space voyage.

Before safely returning to Earth on Thursday evening, the crewmembers' stay aboard the complex was deemed successful with reactivation of the station's systems and repair of a small air leak.

MirCorp has paid to keep the station aloft through November 1. However, senior Russian space officials said earlier this week that Mir would be then deorbited if MirCorp could not generate additional funds.

Partners of the fledgling International Space Station project, led by NASA, have long urged Russian to close Mir for good and send the 110-ton craft crashing into the Pacific Ocean.

Construction of the new station has been stalled repeatedly over the past two years due to Russia's dire financial problems and delays launching critical sections of the $60 billion outpost.