Millionaire has his ticket to ride Millionaire has his ticket to ride

Date: 07/09/00 22:15

WASHINGTON - Dennis Tito has dreamed of going into space since he first learned as a youth that the Soviet Union had sent a tiny satellite called Sputnik into orbit in 1957.

He became a rocket scientist, working for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration for five years in the 1960s to help plan trajectories for Mariner space probes that flew by Mars and Venus.

But it is Tito's second career as founder of a highly successful money management firm, Wilshire Associates in Santa Monica, Calif., that may prove to be his ticket to orbit.

Tito, 59, has put up millions of dollars of his own money for a nine- or 10-day visit to the Russian Mir space station as a "citizen explorer." He would become the first paying tourist for MirCorp, a private company formed to help keep the aging Russian station aloft and operating.

Tito declined to say how much his ticket to Mir will cost. Jeffrey Manber, MirCorp's president, would say only that the cost is "tens of millions of dollars." The firm's general price for space tourists is about $20 million, Manber said, but can vary depending on the length of the trip and the activities involved.

The ride is "a bargain," because it costs $20 million for the Russians to put someone in orbit on a Soyuz rocket and then on to Mir, said Charles Vick, a space analyst for the Federation of American Scientists in Washington.

"Things look good, and I'm optimistic that I do have the right stuff, so to say, to make this flight," Tito said recently from Moscow, where he was undergoing physical and psychological screening. His trip, with two Russian cosmonauts, is expected to occur during the first half of next year, he said.

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