A true space pioneer: Dennis Tito

Brook E. Mantia

Click here to read more of Brooks Space Tourism Column: To The Stars

TO THE STARS!

I LOVE SPACE!

This week I had the pleasure of welcoming home a true space pioneer: Dennis Tito. About two dozen of us gathered at the Tom Bradley International Terminal at LAX Wednesday afternoon to give him a hero’s welcome. We came with signs and banners, and handed out little American flags, and were escorted to a special VIP room on the fifth floor, where the press conference would be held at 5:00 PM.

The room was festooned with garlands of silver and star-speckled black balloons. The media were already there with their cameras and gear. We went to work on the reporters, evangelizing an open-space frontier, while they hastily scribbled notes and trained their cameras on our signs that read “Welcome to Earth Dennis Tito,” and “Dreams DO Come True!”

Dennis Tito

His flight was due at 4:40 PM and, right on time, the big, blue-striped, Russian Aeroflot jet came slowly taxiing around the corner and up to the gate. My husband Vince wondered aloud if they knew what kind of celebrity they had on their plane.

They had already passed through customs in New York (where officials stamped Tito’s passport “EARTH”), so only moments later the crowd surged forward as Tito entered the room to the theme of “2001: A Space Odyssey,” accompanied by his two sons, Brad and Michael, and his girlfriend Dawn. We all whooped and hollered, flashbulbs blazing. He seemed a little overwhelmed, not quite expecting such a big turnout. “I don’t think I’ve ever been met at the airport quite like this before,” he remarked, taking the podium, and we all cheered some more.

Among his new experiences, he mentioned that on the Aeroflot flight they had announced his presence, and the pilots let him sit in the cockpit for much of the flight back from Russia. Something else he had never done before. I guess being the world’s first ticket-buying space tourist has its privileges!

“I have met my dream,” Tito declared during the press conference. And indeed, he has met the dream of millions who long to experience the wonder of space travel. The secret is out of the bag – space travel is fun – and easy!

He spent most of his time looking out the window, shooting video and about 30 rolls of film. He got the best sleep of his life, floating in weightlessness, and said he’d go back to space just to sleep! It was the most incredible experience of his entire life, and he doesn’t understand why the 414 people who have gone before him don’t talk about it more… Send the artists, philosophers, and musicians, he urged, and bring this magnificent perspective into our culture. His mission now is to get more ordinary citizens into space.

That’s one small “space vacation” for a man, one giant leap for space tourism. Dennis Tito’s historic “joyride” has ushered in a new era in civilian space travel. It’s too bad NASA has once again been left behind, but the Russian Space Travel Agency is open for business and booking passage. There’s an extra seat on every Soyuz for a mere $20 million. It may be first-class passengers for now – but the boarding process has begun. It’s only a matter of time before they start calling coach!

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