1st space tourist takes off, April 28, 2001

-April 28, 2017

American businessman Dennis Tito was launched into space on April 28, 2001, aboard the Soyuz TM-32 spacecraft. The trip took place 40 years to the month after Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first person in space and made Tito the first space tourist to pay his own way, an honor for which he paid a reported $20 million.

The crew of the Soyuz TM-32: Dennis Tito (left), Talgat Musabayev, commander (center), and Yuri Baturin, flight engineer (right). Source: NASA

Born in Queens, NY, Tito earned a bachelor’s degree in astronautics and aeronautics from New York University and a master’s degree in engineering science from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He made his millions in finance, starting his own investment firm in 1972, but in the 1960s he was an engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, CA, where he helped to plan and monitor the Mariner 4 and 9 missions to Mars.

Tito had long dreamed of space travel and in June 2000, signed a deal with a commercial space company called MirCorp for a trip to Russia’s Mir space station. Those plans fell through, however, when Russia announced plans in December 2000 to deorbit the aging station. Space Adventures Ltd., a Vienna, VA-based company describing itself as “the world’s premier private space exploration company,” brokered a new deal with Russia’s Federal Space Agency for Tito to travel to the International Space Station.

Tito spent 7 days, 22 hours, and 4 minutes in space and orbited Earth 128 times with cosmonauts Talgat Musabayev and Yuri Baturin.

At the time of his flight, Tito was 60 years old. The oldest rookie space flyer at the time was NASA astronaut Deke Slayton, who made it to orbit in 1975 at the age of 51. As the 415th person in space, Tito also ranked as the oldest person to be launched aboard a Russian rocket, and the third-oldest person to fly in space. John Glenn flew at age 77 and Story Musgrave flew at 61.

Space agencies from several other countries were not pleased with Russia’s decision to accept Tito as a candidate for commercial spaceflight. NASA officials did not believe Tito’s training would be sufficient by trip time. Undeterred, Tito trained for eight months at the Star City complex outside Moscow, where cosmonauts have prepped for flight for decades. He spent nearly eight days in orbit as a crew member of ISS EP-1, a visiting mission to the International Space Station. This mission was launched by the Soyuz TM-32 spacecraft and was landed by Soyuz TM-31. Tito described his space travels fondly: “For me, it was like being in heaven—it was like being in a second life.”

Tito has been in the news again more recently. His not-for-profit mission, Inspiration Mars, which he announced in early 2013, was initially supposed to use entirely private or commercial vehicles to launch a pair of astronauts into Earth orbit in early 2018. The crew would take advantage of the planets' fortuitously close orbits at that time to take a 501-day journey around Mars and back home.

However, according to a November 2013 article in New Scientist, “a new architecture study report released on 20 November concluded that the plan could not work without NASA's Space Launch System (SLS), a heavy lift vehicle that is still in development but should be ready to take humans into space by 2021.”

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Editor's note: This article was originally posted on April 28, 2014 and edited on April 28, 2017.

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