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Space tour trip just out of this world for Dennis.

THE first 'space tourist' blasted off on his trip of a lifetime yesterday, after US and Russian space officials agreed to go ahead with the launch.

Dennis Tito, 60, has become the first paying tourist to travel into space.

Shortly after 8.30am (BST) yesterday, the Californian businessman, strapped into the Soyuz rocket, blasted off from Central Asia under clear skies.

The spaceship left a trail of red flame and a vapour tail as it launched and headed above the clouds, towards the edge of the Earth's atmosphere before travelling into space, where they will be weightless.

The shuttle will eventually dock with the International Space Station.

But an eleventh-hour disagreement between Nasa and Russian space officials, nearly hampered blast-off.

Computer problems have kept the space shuttle Endeavour docked at the station longer than expected as astronauts try to carry out operations of a critical robot arm.

Nasa was concerned that the Russian spaceship docking so close to the US shuttle could be dangerous.

But the Russians refused to delay the launch and agreed to put the Soyuz in a holding pattern if the shuttle was still at the station tomorrow.

Nasa said Endeavour could leave today, but only if the computer trouble was resolved quickly.

Tito paid $20 million (pounds 13 million) for the trip, and had to undergo a gruelling training programme to prepare his body to the rigours of space travel.

But there had been a wrangle over whether a tourist should be allowed to go to the space station.

Nasa tried to block the flight, insisting Tito's presence could jeopardise the work of the ISS crew.

But the Russians said Tito, a former rocket engineer, received the equivalent of a professional cosmonaut's training.

Tito's girlfriend Dawn Abraham was thought to have watched him blast off into space.

The Russian cosmonauts will replace the space station's escape craft during the trip.

Its lifetime expires at the end of the month.

The Soyuz space ship will then act as the new lifeboat and Tito and the two cosmonauts will return on the older ship.
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Publication:The People (London, England)
Date:Apr 29, 2001
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