Californian becomes Russian cosmonaut
MOSCOW (AP) – Brushing aside objections from NASA, Russian space officials on Wednesday named California millionaire Dennis Tito a member of the next crew to fly to the international space station.
Tito, who reportedly will pay the cash-strapped Russian space program $20 million for the trip, said he was undeterred by NASA’s arguments that his presence on board the orbiter would jeopardize the crew’s safety because he hasn’t had the training he needs.
”I feel welcome and I’m looking forward to arriving on the ISS,” the former rocket scientist said at a news conference at Russia’s cosmonaut training center in Star City, outside Moscow.
”I’ve had the dream so long it’s hard to believe I’m within a couple of weeks of achieving that,” he said.
After months of training, Tito, 60, the founder of an investment firm, took his final exam Tuesday by practicing maneuvers in a Russian Soyuz capsule simulator. On Wednesday a government committee approved the results.
The Interdepartmental Committee, which routinely approves cosmonauts for space flight, included Tito in the crew set to launch April 28.
NASA wants Tito’s flight postponed until October so he can train on U.S. space station systems. Administrator Daniel Goldin and Russian Space Agency chief Yury Koptev spoke by phone Tuesday in an attempt to resolve the conflict, but no agreement was reached, said NASA spokesman Dave Drachlis.
Tito, who is to spend about a week on the station, will be accompanied into orbit by Soyuz commander Talgat Musabayev and flight engineer Yuri Baturin, also a latecomer to space flight. Baturin served as an aide to former President Boris Yeltsin before joining Russia’s manned space program.
”I’m glad to be the first space flight commander to be trusted with having such a crew member as Dennis Tito,” Musabayev said. ”I want to help Dennis Tito fulfill his dream.”
Musabayev said there was no possibility that Russia would give in to NASA. ”To be honest, we aren’t considering the issue of Tito not flying,” he said. ”The flight will go ahead, and it will go ahead with Tito.”
The crew’s mission is to dock their fresh Soyuz vehicle to the station and then fly a used one back to Earth. The Russian-made Soyuz serves as the escape vehicle for the station’s crew, and one must be docked to the outpost at all times.
On the trip to the station, Tito will be responsible for radio, navigation and electrical systems, Musabayev said.
Once on board the station, Tito said he plans to concentrate on photographing the views and hopes to establish communication hookups with news media, schools and Internet sites.
Tito said he preferred to think of his adventure not as ”space tourism,” as it has been widely called, but as full-fledged ”participation in the mission.”
”I would like to show that this can be done,” he said. ”More and more people should follow. If they do, the price will come down.”
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