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Saturday, 28 April, 2001, 11:57 GMT 12:57 UK
Profile: Tito the spaceman
Dennis Tito AP
Tito has undergone 900 hours of cosmonaut training
Forty years after Yuri Gagarin became the first man in orbit, an American businessman has become the world's first space tourist.

Tito in space
Degrees in aerospace engineering
Worked for Nasa in the 1960s
Estimated $200m fortune
Wants to become a goodwill space ambassador for George W Bush
Dennis Tito blasted off on his trip to the International Space Station (ISS) on Saturday, having paid Russian space chiefs a reported $20m (14m) for the privilege.

Tito is on board a Russian supply ship as a passenger, riding with two veteran cosmonauts. The flight makes the 60-year-old the 415th person in space - and the first as a paying traveller.

The flight is a dream come true for the Californian financier, who has been trying to join the elite club of space travellers for decades.

Hard fight

"It is not going to be a holiday (but) to me it is a life's dream and the start of a new career," Tito told journalists, during a break from training for the mission.

Tito, from Los Angeles, started his career as a space scientist, designing flight trajectories for three historic Mars missions in the 1960s.

Soyuz rocket AP
Tito will blast off on a Soyuz rocket
He worked at Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena for five years, before leaving to set up the finance company Wilshire Associates, through which he made his fortune.

But despite his millions, Tito has had to fight to blaze a trail for a new generation of adventure tourists.

He first looked into a space vacation in 1991, on a trip to Moscow. And when he did finally get hold of a ticket into space he suddenly found it to be null and void thanks to Russia's decision to scuttle the Mir space station before it fell uncontrollably from the sky.

Civilian history

Russian space officials later offered him a ride on a Russian rocket ship supplying the ISS. Tito's former employer - Nasa - initially objected to the trip, citing safety concerns.

Tito AP
Tito is a celebrity in Russia
But international space officials finally agreed that Tito could fly, subject to him signing a deal relieving all national space agencies of responsibility in the event of a tragedy.

Tito also signed a contract saying he will pay for any breakages he causes and he is banned from US segments of the ISS unescorted.

Tito may be the first to pay for a trip into in space, but he is not the first civilian to make the journey. One of Nasa's early attempts to put a non-professional in space ended in disaster when teacher Christa McAuliffe and the crew she was flying with were killed in the Challenger explosion in 1986.

Tito also follows confectionery scientist Helen Sharman, who in 1991 beat thousands to become Britain's first astronaut, a Japanese journalist and a member of the Saudi royal family, who both went to Mir.

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See also:

24 Apr 01 | Sci/Tech
Space tourist gets go-ahead
23 Apr 01 | Sci/Tech
Russia ignores US over space tourist
16 Jun 00 | Sci/Tech
First 'space tourist' announced
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