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Sunday, 6 May, 2001, 13:34 GMT 14:34 UK
Space tourist hails 'trip to paradise'
Tito and the Russian crew celebrate their return
Tito and the Russian crew celebrate their return
The world's first space tourist Dennis Tito has touched down back on Earth after what he called a "trip to paradise."

Looking tired and pale, he said the controversial eight-day holiday in space had fulfilled his dream


I've achieved my dream and nothing could have been better

Dennis Tito
"It was paradise, a great flight and great landing, there were absolutely no difficulties," he said after landing in the Kazakhstan desert at 0535 GMT.

Despite his upbeat mood, he had trouble walking and was taken to the hospital in a wheelchair for a medical check-up.

'A strong man'

His travelling companions, Russian cosmonauts Talgat Musabayev and Yuri Baturin, appeared fit and well after their voyage to the International Space Station, (ISS) and walked themselves for a brief check-up at a nearby field hospital.

The capsule landed in the Kazakhstan desert
The capsule landed in the Kazakhstan desert
The pioneering trip by an amateur astronaut into outer space had sparked concern about the 60-year-old's fitness.

But Mr Tito's physical and mental condition was praised by his two fellow cosmonauts shortly after touchdown.

"Tito is a very strong man and a very proud man," said Talgat Musabayev.

The trio then flew by helicopter to Kazakhstan's capital, Astana, to meet President Nursultan Nazarbayev.

Feeling good

"I offer an especially warm welcome to Mr Tito," said the president.

"Until recently, you would only read in science fiction that an ordinary man could go to space. You have paved the way for space tourism."

"My personal experience was well beyond my dreams," replied Mr Tito.

"I was worried that I might not feel well in space. But I turned out to feel the best I felt in my entire life."

The multi-millionaire will spend the next 10 days in Russia under medical observation before being allowed to return to the US.

Lucrative income

His voyage sparked a row between the Russian space agency and its American counterpart (Nasa), which objected to the fact that Mr Tito had paid $20m to make his unprecedented trip to the ISS.

Nasa officials had suggested that Mr Tito's presence on the ISS hampered the work of its professional astronauts and placed extra stress on mission controllers.

For the cash-strapped Russian space agency, Tito's payment represented a lucrative source on income, amounting to nearly 15% of its annual budget.

During his time on the ISS, the Californian financier and former space scientist spent most of his time taking photographs, gazing at the Earth and listening to opera music.

More soon

Mr Tito helped the crew by carrying out "menial tasks", such as serving up food.

He said he spent most of his time in an area of the ISS more than 100 metres (328 ft) away from the US segment of the ship.

He said the Americans on board went out of their way to make him feel at home.

Moscow has dismissed Nasa's complaints about the mission, saying it was simply sour grapes because, once again, Russia has achieved a first in space travel, even if their tourist was American.

The US agency which helped broker Dennis Tito's trip says it has several more customers on its waiting list, all willing to pay the Earth for a holiday in space.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Caroline Wyatt
"It had clearly been the holiday of a lifetime"
International Space Station

Analysis

Background

AUDIO VIDEO
See also:

19 Jul 02 | Science/Nature
03 May 01 | Science/Nature
02 May 01 | Science/Nature
01 May 01 | Science/Nature
30 Apr 01 | Science/Nature
28 Apr 01 | Science/Nature
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