Space tourist Dennis Tito welcomed home to Los Angeles |

Space tourist Dennis Tito welcomed home to Los Angeles

The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES (AP) – Flush with a new appreciation for the beauty of Earth and weightless sleep, space tourist Dennis Tito arrived home Wednesday on a flight from Moscow, completing the last leg of his round trip to the international space station.

”I’ve met my dream,” a jubilant Tito said after being greeted at Los Angeles International Airport by Mayor Richard Riordan, who clasped the spacefaring tycoon’s hand and declared ”Astronaut Dennis Tito Day” in the city.

”I think I have a sense of appreciation of what a privilege I had to be able to experience Earth from 240 miles up,” Tito said. ”We have a beautiful planet.”

Tito’s sons Brad and Michael, and girlfriend Dawn Abraham were also on hand.

Tito, 60, landed back on Earth on Sunday, ending his eight-day stay in space. He reportedly paid the Russians up to $20 million for the privilege, which included six days spent aboard the orbiting station.

The trip angered officials from the four nations that are partners with Russia in the station. The officials, including National Aeronautics and Space Administration chief Daniel Goldin, had feared that Tito would jeopardize work aboard the station.

NASA may yet bill Russia for any disruptions caused by his visit, which was overshadowed by a series of unrelated, but far more crippling, computer problems, said Debra Rahn, a spokeswoman for the agency.

”I think it was actually quite a deal,” said Tito, who compared the cost to the estimated $500 million price tag for each space shuttle mission.

Tito, wearing a black leather jacket, encouraged NASA to reserve a private seat on the space shuttle for individuals ”who represent creative aspects of our culture: poets, philosophers, reporters and teachers.”

”I found that eight days in space was the most unique experience a human being could have and I am surprised that many of the people who have been to space have not expressed it this way,” said Tito, who described the professional astronauts aboard the space station as cordial and straight-laced.

He said he helped choose food for the astronauts, took pictures and video of Earth while listening to opera and went through about 30 rolls of film.

Tito said he spent a lot of time asleep and never slept better.

”I would go back to space to sleep,” Tito joked.

Tito was no stranger to space. He has a bachelor’s degree in aeronautics and a master’s in engineering science, and joined NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in 1964, where he worked on designing the flight paths for spacecraft flybys of Mars and Venus.

”It’s not like he doesn’t know what a rocket is,” said Norm Haynes, a retired JPL engineer who worked with Tito.

Tito later helped found Wilshire Associates in 1972. The investment firm now manages more than $10 billion in assets and advises on $1 trillion in assets.

Riordan appointed him in 1993 to serve on the city’s board of water and power commissioners. Tito resigned from the board in 1996.

The Pacific Palisades resident may not be the last tourist to station Alpha: Officials are now drafting criteria that would guide how future amateur astronauts would be selected, trained and certified before flying to the orbiting outpost. The document could be signed by July, NASA’s Rahn said.

”Bureaucracies don’t like to change and this clearly forced a change and it’s going to have it’s impact,” said Tito, who plans to write a book about his experience.

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