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Saturday, 21 April, 2001, 04:03 GMT 05:03 UK
Space tourist 'cleared for take-off'
Soyuz rocket in preparation in Baikonur
Mr Tito is due to launch on 28 April
Reports from the US indicate that the American space agency, Nasa, has agreed in principle to allow a millionaire businessman, Dennis Tito, to become the first paying space tourist.

As we have said in the past, our primary concern is for safety

NASA spokeswoman
The 60-year-old US businessman is believed to be paying Russia $20m for the trip, which was originally destined for Mir, but which was switched to the International Space Station (ISS) when it became clear Mir was being ditched.

Nasa has not confirmed any agreement, but an official says a proposal has been drafted to get Mr Tito into orbit next month - but only as an exceptional case.

If all goes as he hopes, Mr Tito will become the world's first space tourist when a Soyuz rocket blasts off from Kazakstan on 28 April.

Dennis Tito will fly as scheduled

Russian spokesman
For months, Nasa has opposed Mr Tito's space station visit on safety grounds.

The partners of the ISS - the Canadian Space Agency, the European Space Agency and NASDA, the Japanese Space Agency - are still discussing ways to resolve the issue and reach a consensus.

"We're still working with our partners to reach a consenus", said Nasa spokeswoman Kirsten Larson. "As we have said in the past our primary concern is for safety".


Meanwhile, Russian space officials stood firm over their right to send Tito to the space station.

"Nothing has changed or will change. Dennis Tito will fly as scheduled with the other members of his crew on 28 April," a spokesman for Russia's space agency said.

Dennis Tito
Dennis Tito: "I've had this dream so long"
Mr Tito has been training to ride into space for months at cosmonaut headquarters in Star City, Russia.

Russia says that he is well trained for the mission and that it has the right to send him to the ISS, quoting international agreements that give it complete control over who flies on its spacecraft.

But the United States, the leading partner in the 16-nation space station consortium, maintains that Tito lacks the training or Russian language skills to ensure his safety or that of the crews of the space station.

Nasa has softened its rhetoric during the past week, saying it wanted to ensure that Mr Tito would not jeopardise anyone's safety aboard the space station or disrupt the crew's work.

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See also:

17 Apr 01 | Sci/Tech
Judgement day for space tourist
14 Mar 01 | Sci/Tech
Space station crews change over
07 Feb 01 | Sci/Tech
Destiny lab lifts off
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Endeavour sailing home
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