Tito follows tradition as he readies for blastoff
With reporting from ANATOLY ZAK in Baikonur

Posted: April 24, 2001

  Tito and crew
Tito, his commander Talgat Musabyev and flight engineer Yury Baturin pose with officials at a flag raising ceremony in Baikonur this morning. Photo: Anatoly Zak/Spaceflight Now
Springtime in Baikonur and the tulips are in full bloom. It is early Wednesday and a small group of reporters is heading to the Cosmonauts Hotel to watch three men hoist flags, a time-honored tradition to mark an impending departure from the planet.

One man unfurls an American flag. He is Dennis Tito, an investment strategist who parlayed a flair for numbers into a multibillion-dollar pension investment business. Tito does not harbor secret ambitions to become a full-time astronaut. He does however want to visit space. And on Saturday he may very well become the first tourist to vacation in orbit.

The final days before launch are usually restful for the crew, which has been studying books and practicing simulations for months. They are in quarantine, although crews have been known to slip outside their rundown hotel to use the gym or dip into the pool at the sparkling new five-star down the road.

  Flag ceremony
Tito and his comrades raise the U.S. and Russian flags in Baikonur. Photo: Anatoly Zak/Spaceflight Now.
At the end of the flag-raising ceremony, Tito and his crewmates pause to answer a few questions from reporters. Tito is calm and speaks softly.

He says he doesn't really understand why NASA so vehemently objected to his flight. Tito is to fly as a passenger on a mission to deliver a fresh Soyuz vehicle to the International Space Station. The Soyuz serves as the station's lifeboat. "I think this flight will be very good for NASA," said Tito. "ISS (International Space Station) needs positive publicity. I think NASA ultimately will be very happy that I took this flight."

Tito reminds reporters that the U.S. space agency formally withdrew its objections and granted him limited access to the U.S. portions of the still-under-construction complex.

  Tito and crew
The Soyuz Taxi crew speak with reporters in the city of Baikonur. Left to right: Dennis Tito, Talgat Musabyev and Yury Baturin. Photo: Anatoly Zak/Spaceflight Now.
Although officials say Tito will spend most of his time in the Russian-built service module, Zvezda, and base block, Zarya, the photography buff will probably find himself irresistibly drawn to the telescope-quality window in the U.S. science laboratory, Destiny.

Tito says he is bringing several cameras along and plans some photography experiments.

Tito's ride into orbit is scheduled to be rolled out to the launch pad early Thursday. A formal State Commission board met Wednesday evening to review launch preparations and clear the vehicle for flight. Blastoff remains targeted for Saturday afternoon, Baikonur time, about 3:38 a.m. Eastern Time.

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The Soyuz taxi crew raises the American, Russian and Kazakh flags during a traditional preflight ceremony near the Cosmonauts Hotel in the city of Baikonur.
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Workers fit the emergency escape rocket to the fairing of the Soyuz booster.
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