Most Expensive Travel

 $20 million

mrMR. DENNIS TITO waited for long and paid quite a sum. Yet, the dream he latched on to stubbornly for over four decades and the astronomical $20 million he deposited into an escrow account have opened the road to space, howsoever slim and distant, for the paying tourist. Man’s spirit for adventure has never ceased and Mr. Tito’s expensive travel is one such instance. However, it would take a considerable time for this one man’s adventure to become an affordable outing. Translating Mr. Tito’s space trip into a common occurrence could be a long way away given the expenses involved for such flights and the need for a consensus on the training criteria and the basic standards for permitting non-professionals to theInternational Space Station (ISS) which have to be evolved. An initial and crucial test would be the ability of the 60-year-old to cope with the pressures of living in space during his six-day travel. The well-intentioned decision by the ISS Partnership that none of its 16 members would propose similar flights until detailed crew criteria have been finalised and adopted effectively puts on hold some other expressions of intent to travel to space. More immediately, however, the travel by Mr. Tito has brought out the conceptual and practical difficulties in opening up space travel to the non-professional. The Tito flight reflects the spat in space between the two competitive pioneers in cosmic exploration, the U.S. and Russia.

That the loss of the Mir space station in March has vastly restricted Russian exploits in space is evident in the objections raised by the U.S. to Mr. Tito’s flight to the ISS. The reluctance of the U.S. to give permission for the former NASA engineer-turned-banker’s trip to the ISS following the deorbital of the Mir and the Russians’ assertion that they would fly their space tourist, bring to the fore the conflict between funding and expertise in manning and operating the 16-nation ISS project. The project, which was planned as a stellar example of international cooperation, with the U.S. as the major stake holder (45 per cent) followed by Russia (30 per cent) with the remaining split between Japan, Canada and members of the European Space Agency, should not be allowed to sour on account of such issues. Expectations of a further decline in the share of Russia, which has already ceded a quarter of its resources to the U.S. in exchange for help in financing the construction of the Russian modules, is but a pointer to the difficulties ahead.

The space travel of Mr. Tito in a way encapsulates the difficulties ahead in international space cooperation. The U.S. protest that as a paid tourist Mr. Tito was inadequately prepared for the flight should not be ignored. Given the Russian competence in handling space stations and in space endurance, it would take international cooperation several steps further if the U.S. and Russia do not revert to a space race. Mr. Tito’s flight would have been much more pleasant if all concerns had been comprehensively addressed. It is important that the ISS does not become a symbol of power-play as it did in the build up to Mr. Tito’s lift-off. There have been several instances of U.S.- Russian cooperation in space exploration, most notably the 1975 docking of the Soviet Soyuz and the U.S. Apollo mission. It is important for the future of space exploration that the differences of opinion that have clouded the present trip are prevented in the future. It is also imperative that man’s spirit of adventure is kept alive. The optimism expressed recently by Mr. Edwin Aldrin, the second man to set foot on the moon, that sending a common man into space would be achieved in 15 years can bear fruit only with increased international cooperation and technological


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