- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 2, 2001

Dennis Tito will never again have to worry about boring the guests at his palatial home in the Pacific Palisades with the stories of his vacation. In return for the estimated $20 million he paid to the Russian government, and his promise to buy it if he broke it (and not sue if it broke him), Mr. Tito received a six-day stay at the International Space Station, the pinnacle of the vacation frontier.
Not that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration was too happy about it, even though, theoretically, NASA represents a country that favors free markets and the free use of capital. Citing safety and liability concerns, NASA administrators repeatedly raised challenges to Mr. Titos attempted exploration in tourism, eventually resorting to the rather pathetic excuse that a computer virus had made things too dangerous for a "casual" visitor.
Yet Mr. Tito is anything but: his masters in aerospace engineering helped him start his career at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where he plotted flight plans for NASAs Mariner Mars probes. Mr. Tito also had to pass through the rigorous Russian training program after spending a sizeable chunk of his lifetime earning the money to make his dream come true.
Perhaps Mr. Tito simply wanted to pony up his share of the estimated $55 billion Americans will pay for the construction of the International Space Station in express fashion. Already, others, such as filmmaker James Cameron, have expressed interest in taking such a trip, and sponsorship of some sort, whether tourism or commercial campaigns (this rollover landing was brought to you by the fine people at Firestone tires), makes sense.
Besides, wealthy venturing capitalists have a long history of helping new products blast off. As James Oberg, a U.S. expert on the Russian space program, pointed out, "Over the past century or two, millionaires have opened the publics access to dozens of activities which now entertain and thrill millions. It happened with airplanes, with ballooning, with scuba and skydiving and home telescopes, with photography and home-video recording and personal computers."
Moreover, NASA administrators should know that fun is an essential element of any serious venture scientific or otherwise. One of the benefits of freedom is that it allows individuals to pursue fun to the ends of the Earth and beyond, even if it means paying $20 million to lose your lunch and possibly your luggage.
By using old values (and lots of money) to produce the newest recreational sport, Mr. Tito represents some of the best aspects of what being an American is all about. Now, if only he can convince NASA.CORRECTION An April 30 editorial ("Bob Kerreys battle") misstated that the former Navy SEAL fired on U.S. troops during a night mission in Vietnam. While Mr. Kerrey did, indeed, find himself caught in the middle of firefight he had not anticipated, his troops returned fire against the enemy.


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