CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. – Floating weightlessly through the international space station while clad in the blue uniform of a Russian cosmonaut, a delighted California millionaire became the world's first space tourist Monday.
"I love space," declared Dennis Tito, a 60-year-old American financier who is paying the Russian space agency as much as $20 million to make his space-adventure dreams a reality. Neither NASA, which vehemently opposed Tito's flight, nor any of the other space-station partners will receive a share of Tito's payment.
The Soyuz capsule carrying Tito and two cosmonauts pulled up at the space station just before 4 a.m., ending a two-day journey that began with the launch from Kazakstan. The linkup occurred just 14 hours after the departure of space shuttle Endeavour.
Grinning broadly, Tito followed his Russian commander, Talgat Musabayev, into the space station, flying in with his arms outstretched. Tito beamed as he shook hands with the three space-station residents and gave a thumbs-up.
"It was a great trip here," said Tito. "And I don't know about this adaptation that they talk about. I'm already adapted. So I love space."
With a laugh, Musabayev told Russian Mission Control in Russian that Tito "looks younger, maybe 10 years younger now," adding, "Maybe going to space makes you younger."
As the six space travelers gathered around the table in the Russian Zvezda module, the living quarters, Musabayev told Tito: "We are going to prepare everything for you — nice bed and warm food."
Despite its oft-stated opposition to Tito's trip, NASA broadcast the 245-mile-high docking as well as the reunion, using the grainy images provided by Russian Mission Control. The Soyuz — Tito's taxi — made its slow approach with Musabayev at the controls.
"We're so glad that [the Soyuz crewmen] are finally here, so we have guests in our house," space station commander Yuri Usachev said.
Musabayev, who put his arm around Tito's shoulder as the two crews posed for pictures, noted that the space-station residents had to pull open the Soyuz hatch.
"It was a little bit stuck, and we were not able to open it without their help," Musabayev said. "But together we did it."
He added: "The most important thing is — we made it."
NASA had opposed Tito's trip on safety grounds, and Alpha's residents were under orders to conduct safety briefings and drills as soon as the hatches opened. American astronaut Jim Voss assured Mission Control in Houston that the three visitors were being shown all the safety equipment, such as fire extinguishers and oxygen masks.
NASA cleared the space-station crew's schedule for the rest of this week to allow time for "entertaining," as one NASA manager described it over the weekend.
Tito, Musabayev and flight engineer Yuri Baturin were clearly thrilled to reach space station Alpha, a palace compared with the cramped, Spartan Soyuz. They've already accomplished their major objective: delivering a fresh Soyuz lifeboat to the station.
Voss and his NASA crewmate, Susan Helms, said repeatedly over the past few months that they would extend a warm welcome to whomever brings their new Soyuz. Usachev had supported Tito's flight all along.
Tito has strict limitations imposed on him by NASA. He cannot enter the two U.S. modules without an escort, which limits him to the two Russian-built compartments and his Soyuz.
If he breaks anything, he pays for it. If he's hurt or killed, he can't sue NASA. Neither can his family. Tito agreed to these stipulations, in writing, before his launch.
NASA can't blame Tito for the failed computer hard drives aboard the space station; they stopped working almost one week ago. The computer problems left the space station flying in autopilot much of last week and almost delayed the Soyuz's arrival by one day.
By the time Endeavour pulled away Sunday afternoon, all three command-and-control computers on the space station were working, but not all at 100 percent.
Endeavour was about 80 miles away from the space station when the Soyuz docked.
Tito, who worked as an aerospace engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., during the 1960s, plans to focus on Earth observations and photography during his visit. He also plans some educational activities.
He and his Russian crewmates will depart Saturday night aboard the Soyuz that's been docked to the space station for six months.
— The Associated Press contributed to this report