Have you ever dreamt of traveling among the stars? Dennis Tito has realized this dream. This rich Californian, passionate by cosmos issues since he was seventeen years old, had introduced the idea of space tourism by planning this project with Russia in 2001. Space tourism is human space travel for recreational purpose. This is frequently practiced by rich people who have interests in space. Between 2001 and 2009, seven people have paid to go to space. The American multimillionaire Dennis Tito became the first space tourist in 2001, flying to the International Space Station (ISS) on a Soyuz capsule to the tune of $20 million. Six more space tourists would follow his footsteps, but despite hopes no space tourist has flown since 2009. To date, orbital space tourism has been performed only by the Russian Space Agency.
“My personal experience was well beyond my dreams. I was worried that I might not feel well in space. But I turned out to feel the best I felt in my entire life.” These words belong to the American millionaire Dennis Tito, the first “space tourist”. On April 28, he traveled with Talgat Musabayev and Yuri Baturin to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard the manned Soyuz TM-32 spacecraft. Two days later, the spacecraft successfully docked to the ISS. And on May 1, 60-year-old Tito held a 20-minute press conference from the International Space Station.
Who was Dennis Tito, the first space traveler in the world?
Dennis Tito’s parents immigrated to the United States from Italy. His father worked in a printing company and his mother was a seamstress. In the early 1960’s, admiring the first astronauts, Dennis Tito dreamed of dedicating himself to the exploration of the universe. In 1962, Tito entered the College of Engineering at New York University. And the following year, he was already working as an aerospace engineer at NASA. Dennis Tito was involved in the calculation of flight paths for interplanetary “Mariner” type stations, and also actively participated in the implementation of automatic station flights to Mars and Venus.
In 1964, the young scientist graduated from the University with a Master’s degree in Engineering Technology. In 1970, he continued his studies at Andersen University at the University of California at Los Angeles. Two years later, Dennis Tito founded his independent investment management company Wilshere Associates Inc. Despite the change of profession, Tito has not lost his interest in space. For a long time, the dream of visiting space seemed unattainable, but in 1999, the Russian commercial space company MirCorp began developing a program to send space tourists aboard the Mir station in order to attract investment to keep it operational. On June 19, 2000, Dennis Tito and the BBC signed a contract with MirCorp, in order for him to become the first space tourist. However, the funds received (more than $70 million) were too small to maintain the station, as many of the systems needed repairs. As a result, in 2001, the Mir station was flooded in the ocean.
Nevertheless, the idea of “space tourism” was taken up by Roscosmos, an agency in charge of the Russian civil space program, so the search for potential candidates was relaunched by Space Adventures. It is with the latter that Dennis Tito signed the contract towards space.
This being said, Denis Tito never wanted to present his space tourism project as a stroke of madness provoked by a millionaire in search of thrills, but as a project that he has thought long and hard about and for which he had invested a lot of personal efforts throughout his life. Moreover, he underwent hard physical training at the Russian Federal Space Agency. The pre-flight training took place in Star City at the training center for cosmonauts like Yuri-Gagarin. Dennis Tito, the first space tourist, arrived on the ISS on April 28, 2001 as a member of the Soyuz TM-32 team and spent 7 days 22 hours and 4 minutes there, after which he returned to Earth.
How does space tourism advance space science and space law?
NASA has a negative view of that new activity by using the international station for touristic purposes. Indeed, this concept of space tourism poses several major problems.
Firstly, the problems related to space debris are still unresolved, which can cause dangers during scientific missions and more broadly for research purposes. It is all the more disturbing to offer the possibility to individuals to pollute space for purely recreational purposes.
Secondly, the solicitation of material and human means for the preparation of an interplanetary stay requires a great deal of organization. The protagonists of such an organization will no longer be willing to prepare a scientific mission.
Thirdly, this new activity seems to be reserved for one of the richest population categories on the planet, which increases inequalities from the point of view of accessibility of space, which is becoming limited to the major economic powers. This equality of access to space is a principle protected by the 1967 Space Treaty, which defines interplanetary space as res communis, a space accessible to all, which cannot be appropriated. If the concept of space tourism is an appropriation of space for tourism purposes, is this not a way for a country proposing this activity or inviting its wealthy citizens to invest in interplanetary travel to limit access to other countries through a de facto appropriation of the space environment?
Above all, this new concept presents a considerable economic advantage: the lack of means to carry out scientific missions in space is a brake on the evolution of interplanetary knowledge. This financial gap can be filled by space tourism because the funds invested by billionaires wishing to go into space is a significant asset to develop methods of moving and living in space that can be used a posteriori for scientific missions. For this flight, Tito paid $20 million. The cost of launching the Soyuz spacecraft at the time was $35 million to $40 million, plus the cost of preparing the astronauts for the flight, about $60,000 for each of the three crew members. Thus, Tito covered half of the cost of launching a Soyuz mission.
It was the first time that a human launch into space was commercially profitable and generated profits. “I spend 60 years on Earth, and I spend 8 days in space and for my view point it was two separate lives. Life on Earth is so different that life in space!” he said on an AP’s interview given on a mediatic sharing of his trip in space. These words allow to conclude on the fact that space tourism offers an extraordinary experience which must surely be experienced and controlled to become an exceptional practice and which allows the development of techniques to improve human practices in space.
Whether scientific or recreational, interplanetary movements must respect space law in force, that is to say to use the right to appropriate space without violating international access to other countries in the world to interplanetary places.
This article was written by Marina NOVAC, Polina SHTEPA, Morgane CAUSSINUS, Jasmine BOUABOUD, Saina BURNASHEVA and Diana DA SILVA (Paris-Saclay).