Space tourist Dennis Tito gets the ride of his life

Posted: April 28, 2001

The Soyuz rocket carrying Tito and crew climbs toward orbit.
A Soyuz rocket blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Saturday to deliver a new escape ship to the International Space Station and ferry the first paying passenger into orbit.

A television camera inside the cramped capsule showed the diminutive, 60-year-old millionaire Dennis Tito smiling happily as the booster lifted off at 0737 GMT (3:37 a.m. EDT).

Tito's inclusion as a member of the Soyuz crew sent shock waves along every fault line of the difficult space station partnership between the Russians, who will be paid about $20 million by the tourist, and NASA, which depleted nearly every option trying to stop the flight.

Tito enjoys the ride inside the cramped Soyuz capsule.
The controversy, ostensibly laid to rest earlier this week by NASA's grudging decision to allow Tito access to the outpost, flared again less than a day before the Soyuz launch, when Russia refused its partner's request to postpone the flight due to ongoing computer problems aboard the station.

As fuel flowed into the booster, the partners hammered out a compromise: the Soyuz would launch, but would remain in a parking orbit rather than berth at the international space station if NASA needed to keep shuttle Endeavour at the outpost an extra day.

  Tito and crew board
Tito and crew turn to wave to the crowd at the launch pad before climbing the gantry to the board their spacecraft. Photo: Anatoly Zak/Spaceflight Now.
Tito is not likely to complain. The self-made millionaire, founder of the successful Wilshire Associates pension investment firm, has spent about one-tenth of his personal fortune and almost a year of his life preparing to fulfill a life-long dream.

"We are glad to have lived to see this exciting moment," Rosviavkosmos chief Yuri Koptev told the crew just before they strapped in for launch on Saturday, according to the Tass news agency. "The stars have been favorable to us."

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Exclusive video from Baikonur (a bonus for our current mission theater subscribers):

Spaceflight Now's Anatoly Zak was inside the launch pad perimeter to capture this close up footage of the liftoff of the Soyuz TM-32 spacecraft.
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Space tourist Dennis Tito undergoes final checks of his pressure suit before departing for the launch pad.
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The Soyuz TM-32 spacecraft and booster roll to the launch pad on Thursday in the first rays of the morning sun. The rocket, which will carry space tourist Dennis Tito, is being prepared for launch on Saturday.
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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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