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Friday, 16 June, 2000, 11:02 GMT 12:02 UK
First 'space tourist' announced
Cosmonauts AP
Zalyotin (Right) and Kaleri (Left) back on Earth
By BBC News Online science editor Dr David Whitehouse

The next crew to visit the Mir space station will include a paying passenger - a businessman from Los Angeles, US.

The announcement was made on Friday, just as two Russian cosmonauts returned to Earth after spending the past few months reactivating Mir.

The president of MirCorp, the commercial company that now operates Mir, told BBC News Online that the businessman is Dennis Tito, 59, a former scientist at Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Mr Tito will visit Mir next year along with two cosmonauts.

'Citizen explorer'

MirCorp President Jeffrey Manber said: "He has passed the medical tests, he is a serious candidate and is the first of several 'citizen explorers' that we are talking to."

Full details will be given at a press conference being held at Star City, near Moscow, on Monday.

Tito will be paying about $20 million for the one-week mission.

It is a sum he can well afford. In 1973, he set-up an investment management company dealing with pension funds. It is thought that his personal fortune exceeds $250 million.

MirCorp is mostly owned by RSC Energia, the Russian company that built Mir and runs it from day to day.

Bumpy landing

Homecoming cosmonauts Sergei Zalyotin and Alexander Kaleri landed on Friday in their Soyuz TM-30 capsule near the town of Arkalyk in Kazakhstan.

Dropping to Earth under a giant, orange and white parachute, the re-entry module bounced several times before settling down at 0044 GMT.

Cosmonaut Kaleri said it was "the most difficult" landing of his three space missions so far. The capsule "bounced up and down a few times on the ground like a rubber ball," he said.

MirCorp will be pleased with its first commercial mission. Not one of its main systems broke down during the 75-day mission.

Window on the world

Mr Manber said: "We have great plans for Mir besides the guest cosmonauts. It will be an internet portal. From a website you will be able to look out of Mir's windows and watch the Earth drift by."

MirCorp is also in negotiations with "several entertainment groups".

Mr Manber also said that he was excited by an experimental breakthrough during the current mission.

"We managed to grow a crystal in zero gravity that has proven very difficult to do before. It has important pharmaceutical applications," he claimed.

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See also:

12 May 00 | Sci/Tech
Mir spacewalk tests new glue
26 Apr 00 | Sci/Tech
Mir takes on new supplies
13 Apr 00 | Sci/Tech
More money triggers Mir confusion
04 Apr 00 | Sci/Tech
In pictures: Return to Mir
17 Feb 00 | Sci/Tech
Mir to be turned into hotel
25 May 00 | Sci/Tech
Mir company looks to the future
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