SPACE tourist not getting in the way

Thursday, May 3rd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MOSCOW (AP) _ Russian officials denied Thursday that space tourist Dennis Tito had disrupted work on the International Space Station, saying he was spending his time making videos and staying out of the way.

``Tito's presence, according to our information, doesn't influence the program of the primary expedition or the visiting expedition at all,'' said deputy Russian flight controller Viktor Blagov.

Tito, 60, an investment banker from Santa Monica, Calif., arrived at the station Monday on a Russian Soyuz spaceship together with two cosmonauts. He reportedly paid up to $20 million for the trip, which NASA opposed and said would disrupt work on board.

``Of course, when a visiting expedition arrives, the schedule changes a bit. It's not important whether Tito is there or not,'' Blagov said in an interview on the Echo Moskvy radio station. ``Programs are carried out without damage, and scientific experiments are carried out.''

``Tito is busy with his program, making videos and observing,'' Blagov said.

The U.S. space agency objected to Russia's selling tourist trips to the station without the agreement of the other space station partners. An agreement was finally reached, and NASA administrator Daniel Goldin said Russia would have to pay if Tito disrupted work on the station.

``We will do an assessment and ... get a reimbursement, I want to assure you,'' Goldin told a U.S. congressional subcommittee on Wednesday.

Russian Space Agency spokesman Sergei Gorbunov said Tito would have to enter the station's American module only when leaving for his return to Earth and so it is incorrect ``to speak as if he were breaking some kind of seniority system on the station.''

``To speak of there being some kind of stress is, in my view, premature,'' Gorbunov said in an interview on state-run RTR television.

Blagov said he did not know of NASA's intentions to demand compensation, and said Moscow would continue sending tourists into orbit if the money can help support the country's space program and Moscow's commitments to the International Space Station.