NASA loses bid to stop joyride flight of Dennis Tito

Posted: April 24, 2001

Tito during weightlessness training in a Russian Il-76 aircraft. Photo: Courtesy MirCorp/
Faced with no options, the NASA-led panel that manages the International Space Station granted the Russians an exemption on Tuesday to fly tourist Dennis Tito to the orbital outpost.

In exchange, the Russians have pledged to work with their international partners to develop and presumably enforce guidelines affecting future visits to the station by non-professional astronauts.

"We have found the appropriate way to try to deal with this situation," NASA's Mike Hawes, a top space station manager and chairman of the Multilateral Coordination Board, told reporters during a teleconference call Tuesday. "It's a good solution, given all the realities we've had to deal with."

The agreement stipulates that Tito, 60, is to be escorted by one of the space station crewmembers when he is in the Destiny science laboratory or the Unity connecting node, the two U.S. components of the space station. Tito will spend most of his time in the Russian segments -- the Zvezda service module, which serves as the crew's living quarters, and the Zarya base block.

Hawes said NASA will delay checkout of the station's newly installed robot arm and any major maintenance tasks until after Tito and his crewmates leave the station.

Hawes answers questions from reporters at NASA Headquarters during an earlier briefing. Photo: Spaceflight Now/NASA TV
Where Tito will sleep during his week's stay in space will be determined by his commander, Talgat Musabuyav, and the space station chief, cosmonaut Yury Usachev. Tito is paying the Russians $20 million to fly with Masabuyav and cosmonaut Yury Baturin, who are scheduled to blast off Saturday to deliver a new Soyuz spacecraft to the station. The Soyuz serves as an emergency escape ship for the outpost.

Hawes said the financial and the crew schedule impacts from having a tourist aboard will be assessed after Tito's flight. NASA is not charging the Russians or Tito personally for any costs. The space agency is not planning to television or cover Tito's stay aboard the station. The Russian Space Agency told news organizations the fee for an inflight interview is $25,000.

Hawes said NASA is prohibited from flying tourists on the shuttle, but that tourists in space are inevitable.

"I wish we would have had a little more time to work this case," said Hawes. "It's a matter of a process and having to do something earlier than we anticipated."