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Monday, 27 November, 2000, 13:02 GMT
'Space tourist' still banking on Russians
Mir is set for destruction early next year
The man who signed a contract to fly to Mir as the world's first space tourist still hopes to get into orbit despite the recent decision to ditch the space station in the Pacific Ocean early next year.

All they have to do is light the rockets and the escrow opens up and they get all the money

Dennis Tito
Dennis Tito, a 60-year-old Californian investment consultant, thinks that if he cannot go to the Mir he may get an opportunity to visit the new International Space Station (ISS) instead.

Mr Tito has deposited millions of dollars in an escrow account which will be released to the Russian space authorities the moment his rocket leaves the ground - and he believes the cash can still help him fulfil his dream.

"The key is launch,'' he told the Associated Press. "All they have to do is light the rockets and the escrow opens up and they get all the money. And it's a lot of money. There's a real strong incentive, I think, for the Russians to fly me.''

'Political mess'

Mir will be de-orbited at the end of February. A final manned mission to the platform will probably be required to prepare it for destruction. But it is thought highly unlikely that a space tourist would join such an important safety mission.

Tito AP
Dennis Tito is currently training with Russia's cosmonauts
This then raises the prospect of a trip to the US-led ISS, currently occupied by its first long-term residents. The Russians have the right to nominate individuals for certain seats on some flights to the ISS. This has led to speculation that Tito could fly to the new platform in April, when a Soyuz capsule attached to the station for emergency evacuations will be replaced.

Either way, if Mr Tito has not left Earth by 30 June, 2001, the deal he signed is off.

"I just hope this doesn't become some kind of a political mess between the two agencies or the two countries,'' he told AP.

Spare seats

The American space agency chief Daniel Goldin is reported to be less than pleased at the prospect of a "Citizen Explorer" turning up at the ISS.

Tito AP
Tito will pay the Russians many millions of dollars to put him into orbit
"I can't tell the Russians what to do. They're a sovereign program, a sovereign nation,'' he said. "But we do have a part to play in it because the lives, the safety of the astronauts are at stake,'' along with the future of the space station.

The Nasa boss worries that Tito's deal could spur ticket demand for the International Space Station. He says spare seats on Russian Soyuz rockets should go to European or Japanese astronauts who have been training for years, not to wealthy "spectators".

Mr Tito, the founder of Wilshire Associates, a Santa Monica-based investment consultancy that manages assets worth $10bn, negotiated his ticket through MirCorp. The Amsterdam-based firm has exclusive rights to exploit the commercial potential of Mir. It has yet to acknowledge that the ageing platform has no future.

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See also:

17 Nov 00 | Sci/Tech
Financiers hope for Mir reprieve
16 Nov 00 | Sci/Tech
Date set for Mir destruction
20 Jun 00 | Sci/Tech
Mir 'tourist' dreams of space
16 Jun 00 | Sci/Tech
First 'space tourist' announced
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