A California millionaire who's about to become the world's first space tourist wants to lead the charge into orbit by artists, musicians, novelists, movie producers, actors -- in short, anyone creative.
"I don't think anyone realizes how beautiful space is," Dennis Tito said calmly as controversy swirled over his space station visit.
"If space was something that the average person could really appreciate in the literature, not being spoken by test pilots but by artists, by creative people, even a reformed gang member from Watts. You know, 'Hey, man, this is a cool event.' To relate it to diverse groups of people in our culture, maybe a rap singer, who knows? There's a tremendous opportunity there to add value to our society," he said in a recent interview.
Never mind NASA's stern admonition that space is no place for amateurs. Tito hopes his weekend launch aboard a Russian rocket and six-day stay on the international space station will prove anyone can -- and should -- experience space.
The money generated by paying customers, the financier says, would provide the capital needed to lower the cost of launch vehicles and the price to get people to orbit. His eight-day trip cost as much as $20 million; he won't specify how much he's paying Russian space officials.
His No. 1 job when he gets back, besides returning to his chief executive office at Wilshire Associates in Santa Monica, Calif., is to spread his space-is-for-all message.
"Once I get back from my mission, my entire intention is to just open my arms to NASA ... try to maybe get them to think a little bit differently," he said.
NASA waited until four days before Tito's scheduled launch from Kazakstan with two Russian cosmonauts before signing off on his flight, and did so reluctantly. Russian space officials insisted for months that it's their Soyuz rocket and they can put anyone they want on board, an attitude that vexed their U.S. counterparts.
No more space cowboys, NASA warns.
The 60-year-old Tito is a one-time exception, according to NASA and the European, Canadian and Japanese space agencies, and from now on any space station guests will have to meet criteria agreed upon by all the space station partners. Safety must be paramount, the agencies contend.
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