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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

First Mir Tourist to Blast Off Next Year

STAR CITY, Moscow Region -- An American investment manager announced his plan to hitch a multimillion-dollar ride on the Mir space station as the first tourist in orbit.

Dennis Tito, a former rocket scientist, hopes to make the trip next year. The trim, energetic 59-year-old said he had wanted to travel to space ever since hearing of the launch of the first satellite, more than 40 years ago.

"I always wanted to fly and hopefully that will be my opportunity to realize my life's dream,'' Tito told reporters Monday at the Star City space center near Moscow. The complex is a mixture of training facilities and shabby apartment buildings dating from the 1960s.

The announcement came just three days after two cosmonauts returned to Earth after spending more than two months performing repairs and maintenance on the 14-year-old space station. The Mir had been flying unmanned for some eight months before their trip, which was funded by the same private investors who have offered Tito a ride on Mir.

The Netherlands-based MirCorp stepped in after officials of the cash-strapped space program warned that the Mir would be decommissioned if investors could not be found to keep it aloft.

MirCorp and Tito are still negotiating the fee for the approximately weeklong trip to Mir, and MirCorp president Jeffrey Manber said the price tag was expected to be tens of millions of dollars.

An earlier plan to put tourists on the Mir flopped after the businessman being touted as a candidate turned out not to be a multimillionaire.

Manber voiced hope that other "citizen explorers'' would follow Tito's example. He said investors were showing increasing interest in the company's plans to open the first Internet portal in space, which would be capable of relaying live images of the Earth's surface, and its plans to produce highly pure medicines and alloys.

"We are receiving a very good reception from international investors,'' Manber said. "They believe in the Mir space station.''

Tito is the founder of Wilshire Associates, an investment management consulting firm based in Santa Monica, California.

Before he qualifies for the flight, Tito will be subjected to grueling tests, Manber said. "He will be going through months of training,'' Manber said. "There is no sacrifice of safety. We all understand the steps necessary to send a person into space.''

Mir has been the site of a series of accidents and breakdowns, including a terrifying fire and a near fatal collision with a cargo ship in 1997.

But Tito said he studied Mir's record and become convinced that the space station was safe. "The Russian space program has a very excellent safety record and I feel that the risks are very low,'' he said.

Tito said he had successfully passed a crucial centrifugal test and several other preliminary exams, but has many more to go before he's judged fit to fly.

Before he goes into orbit, another team of cosmonauts will be sent to the space station to resuscitate it after the unmanned flight. No date for that mission has been set yet.

The two cosmonauts who touched down last week, Sergei Zalyotin and Alexander Kaleri, said Monday that the space station was in fine working shape.

If found fit, Tito would travel to Mir with two Russian cosmonauts. It's still not clear what he would do for a week on the space station. "I want to experience space. That is my first desire,'' he said. "I want to be able to assist the crew where I can, not be a burden to the crew.''

Space officials view MirCorp as the only hope to save the space station, the last symbol of the once glorious Soviet space program. The firm is 60 percent owned by RKK Energia, the company that built and operates Mir. The rest is owned by private investors.