Los Angeles, CA, May 9, 2001 – The Space Frontier Foundation challenged NASA to “keep the airlock open” for others, as America welcomed space explorer Dennis Tito home this week. Tito, the first person ever to buy his own ticket to fly in space, flew to the International Space Station Alpha and lived onboard with Russian cosmonauts and NASA astronauts, becoming the world’s first paying space traveler. Calling Tito’s flight “historic,” and a “turning point in the opening of space,” the Foundation expressed hopes that he will be the first of a continuos stream of paying guests on board Alpha.
“Dennis Tito has blazed a trail for all of us here on Earth who dream of going into space,’ remarked Rick Tumlinson, Foundation President. “Contrary to naysayers, his stellar performance as a paying guest on Alpha has shown that the ‘right stuff’ isn’t restricted to a few government employees.”
According to Tumlinson, the next challenge for the ISS Partners, Mr. Tito, and the space community is “to put our differences behind us and work together to keep the airlock open for those who wish to follow.”
The Foundation is calling for NASA and the International Partners to work with relevant space organizations and companies to set standards for all commercial activities aboard Alpha, including how and when guests are allowed to fly, and what they can and cannot do aboard the station. Given recent announcements of huge budget shortfalls, the group believes that such activities may well provide an important future source of income for the cash-strapped facility.
“Mr. Tito represents the tip of the iceberg when it comes to citizen exploration of space,” stated Tumlinson. “There are many more people who will ante up the kind of money needed to experience what until now has been reserved for governments and their hand-picked guests. And, as more people fly, economics will bring that cost down. Given the enormous potential market for public space travel, the question to NASA and the ISS team is, why fight it? After all, who are they opening space for?”
The Foundation believes NASA and the ISS partners should leap at the chance to save taxpayers money, and create a cash flow that could help fund science aboard Alpha, which NASA has admitted it had almost no money for after construction and operations costs.
The Foundation fears the ISS partners will prohibit future space travel by setting standards for visitors so high that only government astronauts can meet them, denying other citizens the same chance as Mr. Tito, and costing the space industry billions in potential revenues. Tumlinson added, “I hope NASA and the partners will work with the rest of the space community to set reasonable and achievable standards for public space travel, as well as ways for private firms to provide facilities to house them. There is no need for this to be a controversy any longer. It is time to open the station to those who funded it.”