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Space tourists

(The Cincinnati Post) -- California tycoon Dennis Tito, who paid the Russians $20 million to take him to the international space station this weekend, is not the first space tourist.

And NASA is showing a selective memory in objecting to his superfluous presence.

The honor of being first American space tourist goes to Sen. Jake Garn, the Utah Republican, who in 1985 wanted to ride aboard a shuttle flight. Because he chaired the Senate committee that oversaw NASA's budget, the agency saw fit to oblige.

The next year Rep. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat and the chairman of the House subcommittee that oversaw NASA's budget, wanted to do likewise and the agency also obliged.

The demand for tourist slots aboard the shuttles stopped abruptly two weeks after Nelson's return when the shuttle Challenger exploded.

Then, in 1998, after three years of lobbying, Ohio Sen. John Glenn returned to space aboard a shuttle. Glenn also had substantial say over NASA's budget but his presence on the flight was billed as a "study" of the effects of space on the elderly. Glenn was 77. In fact, it was a valedictory victory lap for the first American who orbited Earth back in 1962.

There was no purpose to the lawmakers' presence aboard the shuttle other than they wanted to go and were in a position to make that happen. The difference is that Tito is paying his own way.

(c) 2001 The Cincinnati Post

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