On April 28, 19 years ago, American millionaire Dennis Tito became the first-ever tourist who bought a ticket to fly into the outer space.
Tito paid $20m for the seven-day (7 days, 22 hours and 4 minutes, to be precise) trip to the International Space Station. He was aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft along with cosmonauts Talgat Musabayev and Yuri Baturin and his unforgettable trip included orbiting the Earth 128 times.
Tito was not a mere multi-millionaire who had no idea of what he had achieved. Born in Queens, New York, Tito earned a bachelor’s degree in astronautics from New York University before pursuing his master’s in engineering science from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. He became a millionaire after choosing finance as his career path where he went on to start his own investment firm in 1972.
Before that, in the 1960s, Tito was NASA’s engineer in their Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California where he helped to plan and monitor the Mariner 4 and 9 missions to Mars. Travelling to space had been Tito’s dream for a very long time and he went one step closer when he signed a deal with a commercial space company called MirCorp for a trip to Russia’s Mir space station in June 2000.
However, things did not work out at that time when Russia instead chose to deorbit the space station in December 2000. Later on, an Austrian company came to Tito’s aid. A Vienna-based company, Space Adventures Ltd, who had described themselves as the world’s first private space exploration company, inked a new deal with Russia’s Federal Space Agency for Tito to travel to the International Space Station.
Several countries’ space agencies had objected to Russia’s decision to send Tito, especially NASA, who insisted Tito’s training for the commercial spaceflight would not be sufficient. The businessman had trained for eight months at the Star City complex outside Moscow, where the cosmonauts have prepared for their flights for decades.
“Looking to my right, out of the window, I could see the blackness of space, I could see Earth, and the curvature of Earth and the sight of Earth from space was just spectacular. I cannot ever duplicate that euphoric feeling that I had at that moment.
“For me, it was a 40-year goal. Often achieving a major goal in life occurs slowly, but this was instant – it was just at that precise moment. It was like being in heaven—it was like being in second life,” Tito described his space travels in an interview a few years ago.
Even after 19 years since Tito’s trip, space tourism has not really taken off yet. Apart from the 79-year-old, only six more people have managed to pay for a ticket to the orbit in outer space and the last one to do that was in 2009. Several companies have come and gone, proposed from trips to the moon to a house on Mars, but nothing has worked out in the last decade or so and travelling to space as a tourist has still not become a thing yet on our beloved Planet Earth.