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An exuberant Dennis Tito landed on Earth Sunday morning after a seven-day adventure trip to the International Space Station.
"It was great, best, best, best of all," the California-based millionaire told reporters in Kazakhstan. "It was paradise. I just came back from paradise."
Upon his return, Tito, a NASA engineer-turned-investment counselor, was taken to a hospital nearby for a precautionary check-up. Customary apples were handed to flight commander Talgat Musabayev, flight engineer Yuri Baturin and Tito.
Juggling and fumbling with the fruit, Tito, 60, joked: "You see, I'm still used to weightlessness."
Meanwhile, thousands of miles away in Chicago, Chirinjeev Kathuria reflected on Tito's mission.
"I was impressed by the way he landed," he told rediff.com. "He (Tito) gave a thumbs-up and it was a textbook landing."
Kathuria, a medical doctor-turned-telecom businessman, is one of the key investors in MirCorp, that worked with the Russian space agency and the ISS (funded by several countries, including America). Tito paid MirCorp $20 million for his journey. He also agreed to pay for any damages he caused on the spacecraft and signed waivers if something were to happen in an emergency.
Though there are reports floating that Tito could owe Russian officials more, Kathuria said the $20 million figure is the final cost.
Before Tito's departure, there was also some concern among NASA officials, who feared Tito would interfere with engineers during an emergency. They felt he was not adequately trained for the journey.
Even after NASA dropped its objections, NASA head Daniel Goldin complained, saying last week that Tito's presence put the space station under substantial stress. Goldin also promised to present a bill to the Russian space agency for extra hours of work required by NASA employees as they ensured Tito's safety. According to Kathuria, Tito was in perfect physical condition and had undergone the required training for eight months in Russia.
"If Tito can go, anyone can go," Kathuria had announced, in an earlier interview.
At 60, Tito is the second oldest person to visit space. Three years ago, astronaut John Glenn went up when he was 77.
The much-publicized success of Tito's trip is a green signal for MirCorp to line up more customers.
"We're very happy with the trip," Kathuria said. "We will continue to work with NASA to make sure all safety requirements are met."
"There are a lot of people between 40 and 60 who are worth more than $100 million," he continued. "They want to find something exciting to do. Space is the ultimate thrill."
Among the notables are director James Cameron, who wants to make movies while he's up there. Announcements are forthcoming, Kathuria said.
We Are Going To Colonise Space
Reluctant NASA Clears First Space Tourist
Transcript of the Chirinjeev Kathuria Chat
Mir Backer's Space Dreams Stay Alive
'We Are the Wright Brothers of Our Age'
'The Russian Space Programme Is the Safest'
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