This Day in History (28-Apr-2001) – Dennis Tito, becomes the first space tourist by joining the crew of Soyuz TM-32 aboard the International Space Station

After a successful career at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Dennis Tito, engineer byprofession,  lost his job during massive budget cutbacks NASA suffered in the early 1970s. He went on to study finance at the University of California, Los Angeles. Tito then formed the investment firm Wilshire Associates, where he applied the computer modeling and mathematical analysis he learned as a rocket scientists to the stock market. Tito’s investments made him a wealthy man. During this time, MirCorp , the America-based company had signed a lease to commercialize the Russian space station Mir. It was looking for wealthy clients to become the world’s first space tourists. Tito had earned enough money and wanted to visit space since NASA days. He quickly signed for it.

But due to lack of funding Mir space station was discarded. However Russians had other ideas. They agreed to sell Tito the third seat on a replacement Soyuz spacecraft heading for the International Space Station (ISS) for a reported $20 million. Another American company, Space Adventures, took over responsibility for arranging the flight. NASA officials refused to let Tito train with the cosmonauts stating the timing of the flight was premature. The Russians didn’t budge, and five days later NASA relented. Tito agreed to release NASA from any liability in case anything went wrong and to pay for any damages he caused to the station. He also agreed to stay in the Russian part of ISS.

Launch day came on April 28, 2001. The Soyuz rocket was launched from Kazakhstan. Two days later, Tito’s Soyuz TM-32 spacecraft docked safely at the space station. Tito had become the first space tourist. Tito spent most of the eight-day flight taking pictures, enjoying the weightless environment of space, and performing several experiments. At the end of the stay, Tito and his crew mates climbed aboard the Soyuz TM-31 spacecraft and landed safely. “It was paradise,” Tito said, “I just came back from paradise.”



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