The Interdepartment Commission in Star City, Russia, approved Tito for a stay of six to 10 days on the station on Wednesday. The Russian space agency Rosaviakosmos said Tito would blast off from Kazakhstan's Baikonur Cosmodrome and fly to the station along with two other cosmonauts, commander Talgat Musabayev and flight engineer Yuri Baturin.
"He's going to open up the door for a lot of other people," predicted John Moltzan, spokesman in Arlington, Va., for the space tourism company Space Adventures, which booked Tito's flight. "This shows people around the world that this is something that's really happening, that's not science fiction."
However, Tito, a former NASA engineer, faces strong opposition from NASA. NASA officials are concerned that an amateur could the jeopardize the safety of the station and its crew given the hectic work schedule planned for astronauts and cosmonauts this month as they get the research outpost operational.
"He's neither trained on the U.S. flight systems nor has he had an opportunity to train with the crew already in orbit," said NASA spokesman Dave Drachlis.
"Even career cosmonauts who fly with us to the International Space Station have trained with us approximately a year on both shuttle and U.S. International Space Station systems, regardless of the duration of their stay."
NASA plans to meet with space agency heads from the station's 15 other international partners early next week. The agency suggested it would be open to an October visit for Tito after six to eight weeks of astronaut training in Houston, which would emphasize emergency procedures and routine housekeeping tasks such as communication with ground control. Agency officials said this six-month delay would also give the station's partners time to develop a legal framework that accounts for civilians on the orbiter.
"NASA and the partners do not oppose flying nonprofessional crew members to the International Space Station on a commercial basis as long as the safety of the crew and the protection of the critical international asset are the primary concern and are in no way being compromised," Drachlis said.
Rosaviakosmos objects to NASA's claims that Tito poses a safety hazard, having extensively trained him for eight months at Gagarin Space Center in Star City, near Moscow. Russian state news agency Itar-Tass also noted that Rosaviakosmos could not meet NASA's postponement demand because Russia would have trouble refunding Tito's $20 million contract with the Russians for the flight, given the nation's ailing economy.
Tito, who founded the Santa Monica, Calif., investment firm Wilshire, would make a trip to the station during a routine "taxi" flight. The mission would fly up in a new Soyuz spacecraft and fly down in the old Soyuz docked at the outpost. Tito originally hoped to fly to Mir space station, but those plans were canceled last year when Russia announced it would scrap the orbiter, which plummeted to the Pacific in March.
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