"Ten Times Better Than Expected," Says First Space Tourist

Andrew Buncombe
for The Independent
May 7, 2001

When most tourists get home from a trip, they generally know what to expect. A stack of mail in the hallway, perhaps a pile of newspapers they forgot to cancel, or mouldy food in the fridge. It's all a little mundane.

But not Dennis Tito. The world's first fee-paying space tourist arrived back on Earth yesterday to a new barrage of criticism and a suggestion from a space-travel legend that he never should have gone.

"It was great, best, best, best of all. It was paradise. I just came back from paradise," beamed Tito, after the Soyuz spacecraft landed on the steppes of Kazakhstan yesterday morning.

"It was a great flight, a great landing, a soft landing... My personal experience was well beyond my dreams. I was worried that I might not feel in space. But I turned out to feel the best I felt in my entire life," said the Californian multimillionaire.

Tito, 60, spent six days at the International Space Station orbiting Earth. It took him and his two cosmonaut crewmates just four hours to return—a lot shorter trip than of many tourists returning from a public holiday day out.

Their capsule landed near Arkalyk, about 250 miles (400 kilometers) from the capital, Astana. As Tito and his colleagues, Talgat Musabayev and Yuri Baturin, spoke to reporters, the return craft—blackened by its fiery return to the atmosphere—was surrounded by onlookers.

Tito Carried in a Chair

The two cosmonauts walked to a medical tent. Tito appeared to be having some trouble walking and he was carried in a chair.

Someone handed him an apple which he tossed into the air—as though checking gravity was back to normal. Perhaps a little surprised to see that Newton's Law was much the same as it had been when he left, he dropped it. "You see, I am still used to weightlessness," he said.

The experience of being in space was "10 times better" than he had imagined, but Tito, a former Nasa scientist-turned-tycoon, said he did not wish to travel to space again. "I want other people to do that."

Whether that happens remains to be seen as Tito's trip has not pleased everyone. Indeed, it was probably as historic for the amount of controversy it created as much as the fact that he was the first civilian to buy a trip into space. Nasa has accused the Russian space agency of failing to take its obligations to the space station project seriously.

That controversy continued when former astronaut and U.S. Senator John Glenn said the millionaire's trip was a mis-use of the facility.

Continued on Next Page >>


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