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2001: First space tourist blasts off
A billionaire businessman from California has become the first paying passenger to go to outer space.

Dennis Tito, aged 60, set off from Kazakhstan at 1338 local time (0838 GMT) for an eight-day holiday aboard the International Space Station.

For Mr Tito, a former Nasa employee, it is the fulfilment of a dream he has held for 40 years. He paid $20m (14m) for his trip of a lifetime, but he has faced a number of setbacks.

First, Nasa rejected his proposal, on the grounds that he is not a trained astronaut.

Dream ticket

So he turned to Russia. The space authorities in Moscow agreed to take him - but his ticket became null and void after his original destination, the Mir Space Station, was decommissioned and fell back to Earth earlier this year.

He was then offered a place on board a scheduled flight with a Soyuz supply mission to the International Space Station.

The change of plans provoked a bitter row between the United States and Russia. After months of wrangling, the American space agency only agreed to allowing Mr Tito on board the Space Station on the condition that he agree not to sue if injured, to pay for anything he breaks, and to sleep only in Russian sections of the station.

Even then, it looked as though the flight might not go ahead, after last-minute computer glitches forced the Endeavour space shuttle to delay its return to Earth from the ISS and Nasa requested that the Soyuz trip be put off.

Moscow refused to delay the mission, and after a tense stand-off Nasa finally relented.

Now, though, Mr Tito can put all that behind him, as he heads out of the Earth's atmosphere and towards the destination that at times has seemed so near - yet so very far away.

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Dennis Tito
Dennis Tito soon after landing back on earth

In Context
The quarrels between Nasa and Moscow continued throughout Dennis Tito's week in space. At one point, Nasa demanded compensation from Russia for lost research time.

On his return to Earth, Mr Tito described his journey as "a major crossing point in my life". He split up with his girlfriend, Dawn, shortly after his return, and found his business had suffered in his absence.

He has spent much of his time since promoting the idea of ordinary people going into space, although he says he wouldn't go back and do it again himself.

Only two other people have paid to go into space - South African computer millionaire Mark Shuttleworth in 2002, and US businessman and scientist Greg Olsen in October 2005.

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