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First space tourist Dennis Tito: ‘It was the biggest moment of my life’



(CNN) – On April 30, 2001, American millionaire Dennis Tito arrived at the International Space Station (ISS) via a Russian Soyuz rocket and became the world’s first space tourist.

For Tito, then 60, it was the culmination of a dream he had had since he was a young man, one that he had abolished cool $ 20 million to make a reality.

Reflecting on the journey two decades ahead, Tito is happy to describe the moment the rocket first went into orbit.

“The pencils started floating in the air and I could see the darkness of the room and the curvature of the earth,”
; he tells CNN Travel.

“I was euphoric. I mean, it was the greatest moment of my life to reach a life goal, and I knew then that nothing could ever beat this.”

In the 20 years since Tito vacationed in space, only a handful of other – wealthy – tourists have followed in his footsteps, but companies like SpaceX, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic are knocking that the next major holiday destination is out of this world and working to make it a reality in the not so distant future.

Tito has been keeping an eye on updates in the field of space – he says he hopes that many others will one day be able to experience the excitement of a trip to space.

“I just wish them the best,” he says. “I hope they get the wonderful experience I had.”

‘The best experience of my whole life’

Dennis-Tito-Space-flight (1)

Dennis Tito, pictured here after landing back on Earth in May 2001, was the world’s first space tourist.

ALEXANDER NEMENOV / AFP via Getty Images

When Tito began his history journey in 2001, he worked in economics, but he had started his career in aviation and astronautics.

Tito had been fascinated by space ever since he was a child, and reckons he paved the way for a space stay even then.

“When I flew in 2001, it was not just anyone [saying], ‘Oh, I want to be famous and fly in space.’ This was a goal I set in 1961, ”he says.

“I was fascinated by it as a young person,” Tito says.

Later, as he changed careers and no longer worked in the aviation arena, Tito continued to dream of his own space flight.

“It was eight days of euphoria”

Dennis Tito, first space tourist

NASA had long opposed the idea of ​​sending civilians into space, but in 1991, shortly before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Tito began talking to the Soviet Union about participating in a space mission as a ticket-paying citizen.

He resumed these conversations later that decade.

“In the late ’90s, the Russians really hurt the funding of this space program, and the bottom line was, I figured,’ H, maybe I could get involved with the Russians. ‘”

Fast forward to April 28, 2001 and a Russian Soyuz spacecraft took off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan with Tito on board along with two Russian cosmonauts. Tito spent the next week aboard the ISS.

“It was eight days of euphoria,” he says.

“I just enjoyed looking at the window, filming the ground, the bunks, the station. It was just wonderful,” Tito recalls.

“It was just – whatever I was expecting, the best I was expecting times 10. It was the best experience of my entire life, the eight days.”

The current status

Since Tito’s historic flight, seven other private citizens have traveled to space and also hosted millions to do so.

Each of these trips was organized through the space agency Space Adventures with travelers transported by Russian Soyuz spacecraft to the ISS.

There have been no space tourists since 2009, which Space Adventures representative Stacey Tearne bases on the fact that the US Space Shuttle program was retired, leaving Russian Soyuz craft as the only option to get to and from the ISS.

Tearne tells CNN Travel that Space Adventures is confident that the landscape will change again.

“In the future, we expect more providers and vehicles,” she says. “When there is competition in the market, there will be competitive prices.”

Deep-seated travelers will be able to reserve space on Boeing's Starliner spacecraft - seen here after landing in White Sands, New Mexico in December 2019 after a test flight - when it begins flying to the ISS.

Deep-seated travelers will be able to reserve space on Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft – seen here after landing in White Sands, New Mexico in December 2019 after a test flight – when it begins flying to the ISS.

Bill Ingalls / NASA via Getty Images

NASA helped fund the development of Boeing’s Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, but both companies remain privately owned, so they still have the option of selling seats aboard their spacecraft to anyone who can afford them.

Orbital space tourism

The US company SpaceX is planning orbits to space later in 2021 via its Crew Dragon aircraft, pictured here in May 2020, not long before it became the first commercial spacecraft to send NASA astronauts into space.

The US company SpaceX is planning orbits to space later in 2021 via its Crew Dragon aircraft, pictured here in May 2020, not long before it became the first commercial spacecraft to send NASA astronauts into space.

SpaceX via Getty Images

Not all space tourism is equal.

There is a marked difference between a trip to orbital space – involving gravitationally fast takeoffs and longer duration – and suborbital space, where travelers are briefly exposed to weightlessness and views of space during a flight to the edge of the atmosphere, 60 miles above Earth.

The American company SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk with the goal of eventually flying humans to Mars, is perhaps the biggest hitter in the orbital space tourism arena.

Billionaire Shift4 Payments CEO Jared Isaacman, who will be one of those on board, is financing the trip.

Arceneaux is set to be the youngest American to visit space and the first person with a prosthesis to travel into space. Arceneaux, Isaacman and the rest of the crew are currently undergoing training for the voyage, which is set to last several days.

Now 80, Dennis Tito is not sure if a return to space is in his future, but he is excited about movements within orbital space tourism.

“I would love to be one of the first to go with Starship to land on Mars if I was physically fit,” he says.

He reckons they are likely to pick a younger crew.

“But I can fantasize about it,” Tito says.

Suborbital space tourism

Meanwhile, Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic has been working on suborbital space tourism projects for some time, selling tickets for $ 250,000 a year. Pop for the last many years. When the company finally reaches this milestone, Branson hopes to be one of Virgin’s space tourists.

NASA scientist: ‘You will not be able to keep people away’

Jeffrey A. Hoffman, a former NASA astronaut who now works in MIT’s Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, says he is “very excited” about space tourism as a concept.

“I’m excited about the idea that many, many more people will be able to experience being in space and hopefully bring back to Earth a new sense of their relationship with our planet,” Hoffman told CNN Travel.

Hoffman describes looking back at Earth from space as a reminder that “we are all in it.”

“Getting this idea of ​​the earth as a finite system and as a planet is crucial to our survival as a species,” he says.

Not only is being in the room fun, Hoffman says. He says the feeling of weightlessness that is hard to imagine for those of us who have remained grounded is incredibly comfortable.

“It’s in an agitated state all the time, your body feels so incredible, different,” he says.

“So I think a lot of people – when the word comes back and these first travelers tell their stories – you will not be able to keep people away.”

Hoffman describes Tito’s 2001 flight as “breaking the ice” and marking “the beginning of a new era of space travel.”

He hopes that the historical astronomical cost of space tourism will fall as demand rises and projects under development become a functioning reality.

“When the word comes back and these first travelers tell their stories – you will not be able to keep people away”

Jeffrey A. Hoffman, former NASA astronaut and MIT professor

“When you look at the travel industry, certain things are accessible to the general population, and certain types of tourism are only available at a much higher economic level. But gradually things tend to seep down.”

Hoffman suggests that the biggest roadblock to space tourism – aside from cost – will be safety fears.

In 2014, a test pilot was killed during a Virgin Galactic test flight, while SpaceX and Blue Origin test rockets exploded without damage.

Hoffman says that as with air travel, there will always be a risk of accidents, but a consistent safety record will help get the concept off the ground.

While launch dates for many of the space tourism concepts have been pushed back several times, Hoffman is convinced that this year could be significant.

Would he consider returning to space as a tourist?

The space expert says he is often invited on cruise ships to give lectures about his work, and he hopes that similar opportunities may one day exist on space travel.

“If anyone invited me to get into orbit, or even go up on a three-minute flight as an experienced astronaut and share the stories that would be great,” Hoffman says.

“On the other hand, if I was in possession of $ 200 million, I’m not sure I would spend it on another week in space because I’ve been there. But I would love to return.”

Future goals

Speaking of cruises, the California company Gateway Foundation released in 2019 plans for a hotel in cruise ships designed to orbit the Earth’s atmosphere.

Voyager Station, which consists of 24 modules connected by elevator shafts that form a rotating wheel orbiting the Earth, is to be built by the Orbital Assembly Corporation, a new construction company run by former pilot John Blincow.

The hotel hopes to highlight some of the fun perks of being in the room – there are plans to serve space food and organize leisure activities like “space ball”.

SpaceX’s Starship system can help get Voyager Station off the ground.

When the original designs premiered a few years ago, Tim Alatorre, senior design architect at Orbital Assembly Corporation told CNN Travel, that the hotel’s aesthetics were a direct response to Stanley Kubrick’s film “2001: A Space Odyssey” – which he called “almost a plan for what not to do. “

“I think the goal of Stanley Kubrick was to highlight the gap between technology and humanity, and then he purposefully made the stations and ships very sterile and clean and foreign.”

Rather than the typical image of space – astronauts in spacesuits floating in cramped quarters – the team behind the space hotel will create a luxury hotel that would not look out of place on Earth, just with some beautiful out of – this world views.

“We’re trying to make the public realize that this golden age of space travel is just around the corner. It’s coming. It’s coming fast,” Blinclow said.

CNN Business’ Jackie Wattles contributed to this report


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