Millionaire tourist promised first-class treatment at Hotel Alpha |

Millionaire tourist promised first-class treatment at Hotel Alpha

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) – The world’s first space tourist, California millionaire Dennis Tito, checked into the international space station for a six-day stay Monday and got a warm welcome. ”I love space,” he said with a big grin.

He was promised first-class accommodations, at least by space standards.

”We are going to prepare everything for you – nice bed and warm food,” one of the Russian cosmonauts told him.

The Russian Soyuz capsule carrying Tito and two cosmonauts caught up with space station Alpha following a two-day chase that began with liftoff in Kazakstan. The hatches swung open and a voice called out: ”Welcome aboard!”

Soyuz commander Talgat Musabayev floated into the space station followed by the 60-year-old Tito, who looked exceedingly healthy. Tito beamed as he shook hands with the three space station residents and gave a thumbs-up. He wore the standard blue cosmonaut uniform.

”It was a great trip here,” said Tito, a financier who is paying up to $20 million for the round-and-round-the-world cruise. ”And I don’t know about this adaptation that they talk about. I’m already adapted. So I love space.”

With a laugh, Musabayev told Russian Mission Control – in Russian – that Tito ”looks younger, maybe 10 years younger now.” The cosmonaut added: ”Maybe going to space makes you younger.” The teasing almost certainly went right over Tito’s head; he does not speak Russian.

NASA, which had strenuously opposed Tito’s trip, broadcast his arrival, using the grainy images provided by Russian Mission Control. The three visitors’ main objective was accomplished as soon as they pulled up: delivering a fresh Soyuz lifeboat. They will leave Saturday night aboard the old Soyuz that has been docked at the space station for six months.

”We’re so glad that (they) are finally here, so we have guests in our house,” said space station commander Yuri Usachev.

Usachev and his American crewmates, Jim Voss and Susan Helms, had just said goodbye to their last guests the day before: seven space shuttle Endeavour astronauts who delivered and installed a giant robot arm, and helped fix a set of troublesome computers.

The three Alpha residents immediately held a safety briefing for Tito, Musabayev and cosmonaut Yuri Baturin and pointed out the fire extinguishers, oxygen masks and other emergency equipment. NASA insisted on an extra long briefing to reduce the risk of having an amateur on board.

For months, NASA had protested the Russians’ insistence on putting Tito aboard. NASA said Tito’s presence would jeopardize safety and interrupt the crew’s work. The Russians argued that he had trained for months as a cosmonaut.

Just four days before Saturday’s launch, NASA capitulated and signed off on his space station visit. But first, Tito had to agree that he would pay for anything he breaks and that neither he nor his family would sue NASA if he gets hurt or killed. He was also instructed to stay out of the U.S. sections of the space station unless escorted. He agreed to that, too.

Another point of contention is that Russia is getting all of the money even though Tito is aboard a jointly owned space station. NASA said it may seek recompense from the Russians, possibly a barter of some sort.

”I’m just a customer,” Tito said before his flight. ”If they want to take the money and open up orphanages, that’s their business.”

Tito – a longtime space enthusiast and one-time rocket scientist – endured a two-day ride in a cramped capsule and is being fed plain space food.

”I’m not coming up for comfort. To me, the big challenges are the adaptation of space,” he said. He added: ”I’m ready to get my hands dirty.”

Tito plans to focus on Earth observations and photography during his visit.

NASA has relieved the station residents of almost all their duties in order to keep an eye on him.

”It may give them a little bit of a break because I know their pace will slow down with the tourist on board, because they just can’t afford to work 110 percent like they have been, with inexperienced people around,” said Kent Rominger, Endeavour’s commander.

Rominger said he is all for space tourism: ”It’s going to generate excitement, and I think that is the way to go for space travel, particularly for us at NASA.”

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