Los Angeles, CA, March 21, 2001 – The Space Frontier Foundation called NASA’s refusal to let Russian guest cosmonaut Dennis Tito enter Johnson Space Center to complete training to fly aboard the International Space Station Alpha a major political blunder. By creating a virtual Iron Curtain around the NASA facility, current NASA management is demonstrating the agency is not interested in opening space to non-astronauts, and is incompetent to manage the complex international aspects of the multi-billion dollar space facility.
“Blocking Mr. Tito at the gates of JSC represents one of the most idiotic, insulting and politically naïve actions ever taken by the U.S. space agency,” remarked Space Frontier Foundation President Rick Tumlinson. “It shows that NASA Administrator Dan Goldin and his staff are not only hypocrites interested in opening space only to their own employees and powerful friends,” he explained, “but they are also incapable of managing the space station with all its international and diplomatic implications. This confrontation should never have happened.”
The Foundation, which has been encouraging NASA to set standards to apply to all ISS visitors, concedes the wealthy Tito is not their idea of a poster child for public access to space, but defends the Russians’ right, and need, to fly him, given their desperate financial situation. Tito, a Santa Monica businessman, paid $20 million to MirCorp to fly aboard the commercial Mir space station prior to NASA forcing it to be de-orbited, has been training for months in Russia, and has met or exceeded the well-proven standards set by the Russians for space flight. Space Frontier Foundation believes NASA is stalling, and using excuses that it does not apply to itself, and thinks that if Tito were the guest of a U.S. Senator or other powerful government official, the agency would bend the rules today.
“First they bulldozed the Mir space station, Tito’s original destination, to clear the way for ISS, resulting in the death of Earth’s first commercial space facility and humiliating the Russian people,” added Tumlinson. “Now, the same week that the world has to watch Mir burn, they add the insult of denigrating the Russians’ ability to train and certify their own passengers.”
He continued, “This isn’t about Tito or safety; it’s about control, and NASA’s inability to grasp that space belongs to the people and the time has come to give it to them.”
The Space Frontier Foundation believes Mr. Tito is the first in a long line of people who want and deserve to be able to enter the frontier they paid to have explored, and is proud to join with the International Space Station Congress in stimulating global discussions about how to best manage the International Space Station so it serves the people who paid for it.