CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – A South African entrepreneur arrived at the international space station on Saturday for an eight-day, seven-night cruise that cost him $20 million.
Mark Shuttleworth, only the second person to buy his way into space, pulled up in a Russian capsule piloted by his Russian commander, ending a two-day journey that began on a launch pad in Kazakhstan. The space station's bell heralded their arrival.
More than an hour later, the hatches swung open and Shuttleworth and his two crewmates floated into the space station. They shook hands with the three residents and accepted calls of congratulations from dignitaries at Russian Mission Control.
Shuttleworth did not speak during the brief welcoming ceremony, allowing his colleagues to do all the talking. His VIP calls were coming up on a later orbit.
The 28-year-old businessman is the first African citizen to fly in space — he's been dubbed an Afronaut back home — and his trip as a space tourist has generated huge excitement in South Africa.
Shuttleworth, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gidzenko and Italian astronaut Roberto Vittori accomplished their primary job with the successful docking of their Soyuz spacecraft, which will now serve as the space station's lifeboat. They will leave next Saturday night in the Soyuz that has been attached to the 250-mile-high complex for the past six months.
Inside space station Alpha, the two Americans and one Russian who have been residents since December were delighted to have more guests. They said goodbye April 17 to seven visiting shuttle astronauts who spent a week doing extensive construction work.
"It's always great to see new faces," American astronaut Carl Walz said in welcoming Shuttleworth and his crewmates.
The visit by this Soyuz crew should be much more relaxing. And the visit by another tourist should be much less taxing for everyone.
Almost exactly one year ago, California money manager Dennis Tito became the world's first paying space tourist, courtesy of the Russians. NASA opposed Tito's trip, saying he would interfere with space station work and possibly even endanger the crew. The Russians prevailed, however, and the rift between the two countries' space programs lasted for months.
To avoid further conflict, NASA and the space agencies of Russia, Europe, Canada and Japan established criteria for future space station visitors. Shuttleworth met all the guidelines and went through eight months of cosmonaut training in Russia and one week of instruction at Johnson Space Center in Houston.
Because of his U.S. training, Shuttleworth will have more leeway aboard the space station than Tito did.
Shuttleworth, who made his fortune off the Internet and negotiated his ride with the Russians, is flying several science experiments. He also plans to chat with South African schoolchildren via ham radio over the next week. Long before his flight, he created the "Hip To Be Square" campaign — or Hip2B2 — to promote science and math education in South Africa.
At 28, he is among the world's younger space travelers.
His Soyuz commander, Gidzenko, a colonel in the Russian Air Force, is making a return visit; he lived on the space station for 4 months in 2000 and 2001. Vittori, a former test pilot who grew up near Rome, is making his first space trip.