Alpha crew will welcome Tito
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
Posted: March 30, 2001
The crew of the international space station will welcome U.S. millionaire Dennis Tito aboard Alpha next month if the Russians proceed with plans to launch him - over NASA's objections - as part of mission to deliver a fresh Soyuz lifeboat to the outpost.
NASA managers have strongly protested Tito's launch, saying the American businessman, who reportedly paid some $20 million for the flight, is not adequately trained to operate U.S. station systems.
They also say Tito's mere presence will be a distraction to the station's on-board crew during a particularly busy time in Alpha's initial activation and checkout.
In an interview with CBS Radio today, commander Yury Usachev, Susan Helms and James Voss all said Tito will be welcomed aboard if he ultimately shows up.
"Our position hasn't changed from what we said pre flight," Helms said. "Of course, it's not our place to get involved with the discussions going on right now as to whether or not who will or won't fly.
"We are absolutely going to welcome anybody who is on the other side of a hatch that we open from any visiting vehicle and we're not going to worry about the things that happen on the ground and the discussions that have taken place," she said.
"We are very happy to have any kind of visitor and basically whoever's there when the Soyuz arrives will be at our table for dinner. No questions asked."
Added Voss: "We'll also ensure the safety of the space station and make sure nothing goes wrong with anyone that's up here."
Usachev, Helms and Voss were launched to the station March 8 aboard the shuttle Discovery. The station's first full-time crew - commander William Shepherd, Yuri Gidzenko and Sergei Krikalev - returned to Earth aboard shuttle Discovery on March 21 to wrap up a 141-day stay in space.
The first crew spent most of its time wrestling with basic activation and checkout of critical station system.
The Expedition Two crew appears equally busy, troubleshooting problems with the station's new Ku-band antenna and checking out the robotic work stations that will be used to control the station's Canadian-built robot arm after it is installed during a shuttle flight next month.
In the near term, the Progress 3 supply ship currently attached to the Zvezda command module's aft port, will be undocked between April 11 and 15 and placed in a parking orbit.
The Soyuz ferry ship currently docked to the Earth-facing port on the Zarya module - the same Soyuz that ferried the Expedition One crew into orbit Oct. 31 - will be moved to Zvezda's aft port sometime between April 16 and 18.
The next day, shuttle Endeavour is scheduled for launch from the Kennedy Space Center to deliver the space station's robot arm. If all goes well, the shuttle will dock with Alpha on April 21, undock April 28 and land back at the Kennedy Space Center on April 30.
The Russians, meanwhile, plan to launch a fresh Soyuz ferry craft April 28, the same day Endeavour undocks, to replace the one that carried Shepherd's crew into orbit. Soyuz spacecraft are rated for six months in space and time is running out on the ship currently docked to Alpha.
The crew of this so-called Soyuz taxi flight - Yuri Baturin, Talgat Musabayev and, presumably, Tito - will dock to Zarya's nadir port. They will undock from the station around May 6. A new Progress supply ship is scheduled for launch May 20 and will dock to Zvezda's aft port.
In the midst of all that, the crew will be checking out and testing the new robot arm and pressing ahead with experiment activation.
It is that heavy workload that NASA managers cite as one of their objections to Tito's participation in the Soyuz taxi flight.
Helms and Voss declined to address the question directly. Voss said simply that "anything that happens during the day that distracts our attention affects the amount of work that we get done.
"But that could be a beautiful view out the window that I might take time from what I'm doing to take a look and see what's going on," he said. "But we get everything done up here."
NASA's other major objection is Tito's lack of training and familiarity with U.S. systems on the station. During a news conference today, Shepherd agreed with that position.
"I personally think having kind of average people go to space when they're ready is going to be a good thing," he said. "I've met Mr. Tito, he's a nice guy. But he does need some training.
"Space is really not a place where you can put people aboard who are tourists. They have to be part of the crew even to a modest sense. And I think that's the issue at the moment, how best to do that."
Controversy aside, the Expedition Two crew is clearly enjoying their initial weeks in space.
"It's a great place to work," Voss said today. "I think we'll be able to do some wonderful science up here once we get everything up here and get some other experiments on board.
"We've already just started with our science work," he added. "It's comfortable, it's large, well lit, the temperature is nice - we run around in shorts most of the time - and we're really quite comfortable living up here."
Helms agreed, saying Alpha is "not only a great place to work, it's a great place to live."
"The thing that surprises me the most, having been a shuttle veteran, is how much room we have to live and work up here on the station," she said. "I knew it would be larger, but I had no concept of how much more comfortable that would be."
Usachev and Voss are bunking in the Zvezda module's two staterooms while Helms has rigged an impromptu sleep station in the Destiny laboratory module.
"We built basically a third sleep station in one of the rack places here in the lab," she said. "It was the perfect place to put a sleep station because it's got the right kind of shape and size. And with Jim's help, we've ended up making a very comfortable place to sleep."
The crew has not had much spare time. But Voss said they have been able to chat with family and friends via the station's ham radio "and during our spare time - what little there is of it - we look out the window, do a little bit of writing, we do a lot of exercise up here as well to maintain our physical conditioning."
See the Status Center for full play-by-play coverage.