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U.S. Man To Be Tourist Aboard Mir

June 16, 2000

MOSCOW (AP) _ A one-time U.S. rocket scientist plans to experience space flight from the other end as a tourist aboard the Russian space station Mir, the company providing private investment for the station said Friday.

The announcement that Dennis Tito, who now heads Wilshire Associates in Santa Monica, Calif., is preparing to head into orbit came just hours after two cosmonauts returned from a two-month mission that resuscitated the aging and often-troubled Mir.

Officials of Russia’s cash-strapped space program had said the 14-year-old Mir would be decommissioned this spring unless investors could be found to keep it aloft.

As the Mir’s time appeared to be ending, a Netherlands-based company called MirCorp came up with funds for a mission that began April 4. The mission was aimed at performing small repairs and maintenance aboard the Mir to restore it to full service after flying unmanned for eight months.

A capsule carrying Sergei Zalyotin and Alexander Kaleri touched down by parachute at 4:44 a.m. Moscow time near the town of Arkalyk in the former Soviet republic of Kazakstan after a three-and-a-half-hour descent, Mission Control spokesman Valery Lyndin said.

``The cosmonauts confirmed that Mir is in good working order, and they demonstrated the value of Mir to the world’s business community,″ said Chirinjeev Kathuria, one of MirCorp’s main investors. ``We now are preparing the groundwork for upcoming missions to the station.″

MirCorp spokesman Jeffrey Lenorovitz said later Friday that Tito is undergoing training in preparation for a mission in early 2001 and that he was expected to pay a deposit sealing the mission within the next few days.

Lenorovitz declined to say how much the deposit would be, but said the full ticket to fly was expected to cost about $20 million.

Tito, currently in Moscow, could not immediately be reached for comment on what he expected to do on the mission of seven to 10 days. Lenorovitz said what a ``space tourist″ might do is an open question.

``We don’t know whether he’s just going to enjoy the experience ... or perform experiments, Lenorovitz said by telephone from France.

If he wants to do experiments, Tito has the background to cook up something sophisticated. In a 1999 profile posted on Wilshire Associates’ Web site, the Los Angeles Times said Tito once worked for the U.S. Jet Propulsion Laboratory and that his responsibilities included working out the trajectories for Mariner spacecraft, which reached Mars and Venus in the 1960s and 70s.

RKK Energiya company, which built and runs Mir, has a 60-percent stake in MirCorp and the remainder belongs to private investors.

The aging station has seen a series of accidents and breakdowns, including a terrifying fire and a near-fatal collision with a cargo ship in 1997. MirCorp officials played down past problems.

Russian space officials view MirCorp as the last hope to save Mir, a symbol of the once-glorious Soviet space program that put the first satellite in orbit and the first person into space.

The U.S. space agency NASA has been vexed by Moscow’s decision to extend Mir’s life, saying it diverts scarce Russian resources from the International Space Station project. The new station is behind schedule because of Russia’s failure to deliver a key component, the Zvezda service module, currently set to be launched July 12.

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On the Net:

MirCorp: http://www.mirstation.com