STAR CITY, Russia – California financier Dennis Tito showed both sentimentality and flashes of anger Tuesday as he reflected on his six days on the international space station and the U.S. space agency's bitter reaction to his trip.
The most profound moment for him was when he spoke to his children on Earth over what he called a ham radio link, Tito said, choking up. While he objected to being called a "space tourist," he was resigned to the term being applied to him.
"I would like people to see me as a serious man who had a dream and pursued it in the face of great difficulty," he told reporters at Star City, the Russian cosmonaut training center where he worked for months to prepare for his trip.
Tito reportedly paid Russian space agencies up to $20 million for the trip, which was originally intended to be to Russia's Mir space station. After the Mir was scrapped in March, his destination was changed to the International Space Station — over furious protests from NASA, the U.S. space agency.
While Tito was aboard the space station last week, snapping photos from the windows, preparing meals for himself and the two cosmonauts and helping out with other chores, NASA chief Daniel Goldin spoke harshly about his trip at a U.S. congressional hearing in Washington.
Goldin claimed that NASA workers were under stress because they had to work to ensure the safety of a nonprofessional aboard the station. He suggested that Tito should have waited, like American movie director James Cameron, who apparently decided to delay his trip until the space station is ready for tourists. Cameron was "an American patriot," Goldin said.
Tito reacted angrily Tuesday when asked about Goldin's comment.
"With all due respect to Mr. Goldin, I don't think he's in a position to determine who is an American patriot and who isn't," Tito said sharply.
His cosmonaut colleague, Soyuz commander Talgat Musabayev, jumped to Tito's defense, saying he was more than a tourist.
"A flight into space is not a flight on a Boeing 747," Musabayev.
As for NASA's complaints, he said, "We are happy for the successes that NASA has achieved. ... Why doesn't NASA have a similar position toward us?"
Tito, Musabayev and cosmonaut Yuri Baturin returned to Earth on Sunday, and doctors have given them an initial clean bill of health. Tito is to return to the United States on Saturday.