Tito, 60, realized a lifelong dream Saturday as he became the 415th person in space, and the very first one as a paying tourist, alongside two Russian cosmonauts.
Earlier in his career, Tito spent five years as an engineer at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. He later turned a spare time interest in the stock market into Wilshire Associates, now the nation’s third largest pension consulting firm.
Of course, getting into space was not without incident, despite the $20 million price tag, roughly the cost of the Russian space flight and more than a sixth of the Russian space program’s annual budget. NASA had objected to Tito’s presence as a space “amateur,” but Russian space officials held firm to their position that as full partners in the ISS, they had the right to send anyone they wanted on their flight quota.
Besides, Tito is not the first civilian in space they noted – just the first tourist.
NASA gave in earlier last week following a face-saving agreement by Tito to pay for anything he might break. Russian officials agreed to keep Soyuz away from the space station until the US shuttle Endeavor leaves.
The Russian Soyuz is scheduled to dock with the ISS today. The crew will return to Earth on May 6 aboard a similar craft already docked with the station.
The $95 billion ISS is being build by the United States and Russia along with Canada, Japan and European countries.