Goldin, Koptev At Odds On Tito Flight
WASHINGTON -- While tourists may someday visit the International Space Station, NASA Administrator Daniel Goldin said now is not the time, and that when the time does come, the bar needs to be set very high.
In a March 9 interview with Space News, Goldin said potential paying visitors to the station should have a very high level of training and probably pay a price much higher than the $20 million U.S. millionaire Dennis Tito has offered Russia for a ride to the station.
"The space station is a $24 billion to $25 billion investment. You could have five Dennis Titos, that aint going to make an impact," Goldin said. "Im talking about people coming with real money. Were not willing to give away the space station at three cents on the dollar."
Goldin also said that Titos planned visit in April aboard a Russian-built Soyuz spacecraft launched by a Russian Soyuz rocket, would be a disruption during a complex mission. That mission primarily involves the installation of a Canadian-built robotic device that will be used to move objects on the outside of the station both during and after the assembly phase of the program.
"Would people visit a hotel when its under construction? We have to take a look at the ops (operations) tempo. And I think the Russians are concerned about this too," Goldin said. "There will be times when the ops tempo is not very high that may be appropriate for some tourists to come up. But during a time of high activity we dont have time to hand-hold tourists that dont have the proper training."
Nevertheless, Goldin, who last week became the U.S. space agencys longest serving administrator, will not be making the decision on Titos flight.
"Contrary to popular belief, there are something like 18,000 employees here and thousands of projects. I delegate authority. I delegated [the Tito decision] to my staff -- Joe Rothenberg, [NASA associate administrator for spaceflight], and the team that is negotiating with the Russians."
Goldin said the only condition he placed on that decision is that a commercial plan be developed for tourists to visit the station that includes screening, training and operational procedures that can be agreed to by all of the partners in the project.
"When I say agreed upon, I mean not just by the United States and Russia, but by all of the partners. You set that standard and once that standard is there, there are no questions. We also have to establish where the training has to be," Goldin said.
"What kinds of quid pro quo activities are involved? Maybe some will go up on a Soyuz and down on a shuttle. Or if they go up on a Soyuz and down on a Soyuz, we still might have to train them in Houston," Goldin said. "They just cant be trained on a Soyuz. They have to be trained on the station activities."
When a decision will be made about the Tito flight is unclear. Officials of NASA and Rosaviacosmos, the Russian space agency, met in Houston Feb. 26-28 without resolving the issue.
In an interview with Space News March 6, Rosaviacosmos Director General Yuri Koptev said Rosaviacosmos remains determined to carry through with the Tito mission because it needs the cash to carry through with its space station obligations.
Tito, who paid a reported $20 million for the flight, is scheduled to be launched April 30 along with cosmonauts Yuri Baturin and Talgat Musabayev. The next Soyuz launch to the international station is scheduled for launch in October.
"No matter what position the Europeans and Americans literally take, we will carry out this flight unless there is some force majeure (uncontrollable situation)," Koptev said.
Koptev said he was referring to the fact that Tito has suffered pneumonia, and a decline in the millionaires health could derail the mission. In addition, Koptev said NASA is attempting to convince Tito to postpone his flight until October.
A former Russian space official familiar with the discussions said a draft of the agreement prepared by NASA requires that all crew members, including space tourists, undergo training and pass medical checks and qualification exams before they could be cleared to visit the space station.
The former official, who asked not to be named, said NASA could attempt to veto Titos flight on health grounds if Rosaviacosmos signs this version of the agreement.
In the absence of such an agreement, Rosaviacosmos could in theory ignore such a diagnosis since medical personnel at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City have declared Tito fit to fly.
Titos flight could be also postponed if NASA manages to convince Tito personally to agree to fly to the space station in October instead of April, Koptev said.
"They are trying to convince him not to fly" on April 30 to give way to ESA's (European Space Agency) Thomas Reiter, Koptev said. "However, this alternative to launch Reiter wont work, as we have no time left to train him," Koptev said.
Koptev said Russias International Space Station agreements dictate that Russia notify its partners of visiting crew selections. But he insisted that Russia does not need permission from its partners to fly specific individuals to the station.
Rosaviacosmos notified ESA and NASA of Titos flight back in November, but the two agencies stalled with their answers "for some reason," Koptev said.