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The first space tourist Denis Tito: “This was the greatest moment in my life”



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

For Tito, then 60, it was the culmination of a dream he had dreamed of as a young man, for which he had thrown a great $ 20 million to make it a reality.

Reflecting on the voyage two decades later, Tito is delighted to describe the moment the rocket first went into orbit.

“The pencils started flying in the air and I could see the blackness of space and the curvature of the earth,”
; he told CNN Travel.

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

In the 20 years since Tito rested in space, only a handful of other tourist-rich tourists have followed in his footsteps, but companies such as SpaceX, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic are counting on the next big holiday destination out of the world. to make it a reality in the not-so-distant future.

Tito is closely following the updates in the field of space tourism – he says that he hopes that many others will one day be able to experience the thrill of a space trip.

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

“The best experience of my life”

Denis-Tito space flight (1)

Denis Tito, depicted here after landing in May 2001, was the world’s first space tourist.

ALEXANDER NEMENOV / AFP via Getty Images

When Tito embarked on his historic journey in 2001, he worked in finance, but began his career in aeronautics and astronautics.

Tito has been fascinated by space since he was a child and believes that even then he was paving the way for a cosmic abode.

“When I flew in 2001, it wasn’t just anyone [saying]”Oh, I want to be famous and fly into space.” That was a goal I set for myself in 1961, “he said.

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

Later, when he changed his career and no longer worked in the air navigation arena, Tito continued to dream of his own space flight.

“It was eight days of euphoria”

Denis Tito, the first space tourist

NASA has 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 joining a space mission as a citizen who pays for tickets.

He began these conversations later in the decade.

“In the late 1990s, the Russians were really affected by the funding of this space program, and the most important thing was, I understood,” and, perhaps, I could contact the Russians. “

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

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

“I just enjoyed looking out the window, taking pictures of the ground, the windows, the train station. It was just wonderful,” Tito recalls.

“It was just – whatever I expected, the best I had expected 10 times. It was the best experience of my whole life, these eight days.”

The current state of the game

After Tito’s historic flight, seven other private citizens have traveled in space, also coughing millions for it.

Each of these trips was organized by the Space Adventures space agency, and the passengers were transported by the Russian Soyuz spacecraft to the ISS.

There have been no space tourists since 2009, and Space Adventures spokesman Stacy Tearn attributes the fact that the US space shuttle program has been withdrawn, leaving the Russian Soyuz spacecraft as the only way to get to and from the ISS.

Tearn told CNN Travel that Space Adventures is confident that the landscape will change again.

“We expect a lot of suppliers and vehicles in the future,” she said. “Once there is competition in the market, there will be competitive prices.”

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

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

Bill Ingles / NASA via Getty Images

NASA has helped fund the development of the Boeing Starliner and SpaceX’s Crew Dragon, but both companies remain privately owned, so they will still be able to sell seats on board their spacecraft to anyone who can afford them.

Orbital space tourism

The US company SpaceX is planning orbital space travel later in 2021 with its Crew Dragon aircraft, depicted here in May 2020, shortly before it became the first commercial spacecraft to send NASA astronauts into space.

The US company SpaceX is planning orbital space travel later in 2021 with its Crew Dragon aircraft, depicted here in May 2020, shortly 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 noticeable difference between traveling to orbital space – including high-speed gravity takeoffs and longer durations – and suborbital space, in which passengers are briefly exposed to weightlessness and space views during a flight to the edge of the atmosphere. 60 miles above Earth .

The American company SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk in order to eventually fly people to Mars, is perhaps the biggest cunning in the orbital space arena.

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

Arceneaux will be the youngest American to visit space and the first person with a prosthesis to travel in space. Arceneaux, Isaacman and the rest of the crew are currently undergoing training for the trip, which should last several days.

Now 80 years old, Denis Tito is not sure if his return to space is in his future, but he is excited about the movements in the field of orbital space tourism.

“I would be happy to be one of the first people to go to Mars with Starship if I was physically fit,” he said.

He thinks they will probably go for a younger crew.

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

Suborbital space tourism

Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, meanwhile, has been working on suborbital space tourism projects for some time, selling tickets for $ 250,000 to pop stars over the past few years. When the company finally reaches this stage, 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 aeronautics and astronautics department, says he is “very enthusiastic” 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 connection to our planet,” Hoffman told CNN Travel.

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

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

Not only that, being in space is fun, Hoffman says. He says that the feeling of weightlessness, which is hard to imagine for those of us who have remained connected to Earth, is incredibly pleasant.

“He’s in a state of delight all the time, your body feels so amazing, different,” he says.

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

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

He hopes that historically the astronomical costs of space tourism will fall with increasing demand and development projects will become a working reality.

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

Jeffrey A. Hoffman, former NASA astronaut and professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology

“When you look at the tourism industry, some things are available to the population, and some types of tourism are only available at a much higher economic level. But gradually things tend to flow.”

Hoffman suggests that the main obstacle to space tourism – in addition to costs – will be safety concerns.

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

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

Although the launch dates of many space tourism concepts have been shifted several times, Hoffman is confident that this year could be significant.

Would you consider returning to space as a tourist?

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

“If someone invited me into orbit and even took a three-minute flight as an experienced astronaut and shared stories, that would be great,” Hoffman said.

“On the other hand, if I had $ 200 million, I’m not sure I’d spend it just another week in space because I’ve been there. But I’d like to go back.”

Future goals

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

The Voyager station, consisting of 24 modules connected to elevator shafts that make up a spinning wheel orbiting the Earth, is to be built by the Orbital Assembly Corporation, a new construction company run by former pilot John Blinkov.

The hotel hopes to highlight some of the fun benefits of being in space – there are plans to serve space food and organize leisure activities such as “space basketball”.

SpaceX’s StarsX system can help download Voyager Station.

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

“I think Stanley Kubrick’s goal was to emphasize the division between technology and humanity, and so, purposefully, he made stations and ships very sterile, clean, and alien.”

Instead of the typical image of space – astronauts in space suits floating in cramped spaces – the team behind the space hotel wants to create a luxury hotel that would not look out of place on Earth, with only some rather out-of-sight views of this world.

“We’re trying to make the public realize that this golden age of space travel is very close. It’s coming. It’s coming fast,” Blinklow said.

CNN Business’s Jackie Watts contributed to this report


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