Dennis Tito was the world’s first space tourist, paying $20 million to join a Russian cosmonaut crew on a Soyuz rocket to the International Space Station in 2001. Tito, founder of Santa Monica investment advisory Wilshire Associates, wasn’t just a well-heeled businessman with a space obsession. Before entering the finance world, he earned degrees in astronautics, aeronautics, and engineering science, then worked for five years at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena helping plot trajectories for the Mariner IV, V, and IX trips to Mars. He orbited Earth 128 times in eight days on the ISS. Tito recently reflected at his Santa Monica office on his experience in space and what the future might hold for space tourism.
NAME: Dennis Tito
HOMETOWN: New York
COMPANY: Wilshire Associates Inc.
TITLE: Chairman and chief executive
Why were you so determined to go into space?
By the time I was 21, I was studying to become a rocket scientist. At that point I said, “Boy, I really want to go in space when I grow up.” I didn’t know how I was going to do it. I certainly wasn’t as qualified as the original Mercury astronauts. I thought, over time maybe regular people would be able to go into space. I waited and waited and watched, and decades went by and it didn’t seem like anything was going to happen.
So then you found a way with the Russians. Were you ever worried about safety or did you have second thoughts?
I had a lot of thoughts about it. I had my own way of evaluating risks. I was 60 then. I had a 1 percent chance of not being alive in 12 months. I came up with about a 1 percent estimate of not surviving (the trip). So it came down to one year of expected life for a life goal.
What’s it like up there?
It went well beyond my expectations. And the ability to achieve a lifelong goal that I set 40 years earlier is awesome. Being in space, circling the Earth and knowing that all of humanity is below you is just the most thrilling experience I think anyone can have.
What surprised you most?
My biggest concern was that I might end up being ill or jetlagged or exhausted or I wouldn’t adapt to weightlessness. The big surprise was that everything went right. Just a euphoric experience from beginning to end. Just the greatest experience of my life.
For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.