Russia stands firm on Tito, cosmonauts resume training

Posted: March 20, 2001

Dennis Tito received VIP treatment from the Russian space authorities at the launch of Expedition One. He is pictured here at the Baikonur Cosmodrome awaiting the departure of the crew for the launch pad. NASA has proved less hospitable during his recent visit to the Johnson Space Center. Photo: Steven Young/Spaceflight Now
MOSCOW -- The Russian Aviation and Space Agency, Rosaviacosmos, ordered two Russian cosmonauts to resume training at the Johnson Space Center, some 24 hours after they refused to enter the NASA facility in solidarity with crewmate Dennis Tito, who was barred from training by space agency officials.

Cosmonauts Talgat Musabaev, Yuri Baturin, and U.S. businessman Dennis Tito arrived to Houston for a familiarization with the U.S. segment of the International Space Station. However, NASA, which is opposed to Russia's plans to ferry commercial passengers to the station, denied Tito entry into the training facility at Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

Rosaviacosmos officials said that they understood the motives of the cosmonauts, however, they directed them to resume training as planned. However, both Rosaviacosmos and RKK Energia stressed that Dennis Tito would be onboard the Soyuz slated for launch toward the ISS in April. The spacecraft serves as a lifeboat for the station and at least one Soyuz should be constantly docked to the manned outpost.

Johnson Space Center spokesman Steve Nesbitt said the Russian members of the Soyuz taxi crew had reported for training Tuesday morning.

NASA attempts to block Tito's flight spurred an outrage in the Russian space industry.

"They are just looking for a phony excuses [to prevent Tito from flying]," a top RKK Energia official said, "However, they are going to learn very soon that we are absolutely determined to fulfill all terms of our contract with Tito in April. He signed all the paperwork, paid the money and we are going to do our part, no matter what they [NASA] think."

Rosaviacosmos officials echoed this statement, saying that Tito's flight in April would proceed as scheduled. Sergei Gorbunov, press-chief at Rosaviacosmos said that NASA was informed about the issue in time and under all established procedures.