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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Space Tourism Sparks Standoff

American millionaire Dennis Tito’s decision to buy a trip to space onboard a Soyuz capsule is slowly becoming a risky investment, as Russian and U.S. space officials spat over whether his flight could be hazardous for the safety of the international space station.

Tito, who is to pay $20 million to the Russians if launched to the ISS on April 30, flew to the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Houston over the weekend to be drilled on the peculiarities of the station’s U.S. segment. But he was denied access to the training facility.

His crewmates, Russian cosmonaut Yury Baturin and Kazakh commander Talgat Musabayev, stuck by him and refused to begin training Monday. Russian Aviation and Space Agency spokesman Konstantin Kreydenko described it as a "solidarity strike."

The confrontation got so out of hand that space agency general director Yury Koptev had to personally intervene Tuesday and order Baturin, Musabayev and their backup crew to start training in Houston "with or without" Tito, according to Kreydenko. The two began training Tuesday.

Both NASA, whose ISS managers were to hold a briefing on the conflict at about midnight Moscow time, and the European Space Agency maintain that Tito lacks the necessary skills and could pose a safety hazard to the station and its crew.

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NASA issued a statement Monday saying that the next several months will be a busy period for ISS inhabitants and the "presence of a nonprofessional crew member … would add a significant burden to the expedition and detract from the overall safety of the international space station."

NASA said there also were operational and legal considerations that could not be addressed in time for Tito to join next month’s mission.

A NASA official said by telephone Tuesday that his agency "fully supports commercialization of the station," but would like to see Tito receive further training and believes Russia alone should not have the power to decide whether he is fit to fly to the ISS.

Tito and the Russians originally agreed that he would fly to Russia’s Mir station. But that plan fell through when the government decided not to send another crew to Mir, and Tito began training for a weeklong flight to the ISS.

Russian space officials say Tito’s flight would pave the way for more space tourism deals that the order-starved Russian space industry needs to honor its ISS commitments.

"If we yield to pressure on Tito ... there might be no such deals in the future," said an official with the space agency, Rosaviakosmos, who asked not to be identified.

The official noted that agreements signed by ISS participants require Rosaviakosmos only to notify the others of visiting crews, but not to seek permission. Rosaviakosmos did notify the European Space Agency and NASA of Tito’s pending flight in November, but the agencies voiced their objections in January when "it was already too late" to reshuffle the crew, the official said.

He said Tito will undergo computer-simulated training upon his return from the United States to Russia on Saturday to learn "the basics" about the U.S. segment of the station, which would be sufficient for his short flight.

Tito, 60, must also take final exams and pass medical checks before being cleared for the flight, he said.

The official dismissed NASA’s concerns about safety risks and said Tito can stay in the Russian-made Zvezda service module and not venture into the U.S.-made modules.

The official said his agency may agree to delay Tito’s trip to ISS only if he himself bows to pressure from NASA and agrees to postpone his flight until October.