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He doesn't even get a chocolate on his pillow

By TOM ZUCCO

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 1, 2001


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Dennis Tito wanted a different kind of vacation; the ticket, however, was a bit pricey.
It's not that Dennis Tito had a spare $20-million lying around his trailer and wanted to play the accidental space tourist. We can hate him for that, sure. But it is his money. I assume he earned it legitimately.

What I want to know is . . . how bored is this guy?

So he hitches a six-day ride into outer space. Nice view from 240 miles up, no question about that. But what do you do once you're up there?

You float around, stare into the inky void, take a few Polaroids and make small talk with the other astronauts. Who are actually two Russian cosmonauts. Who don't speak English. That's like driving cross-country with a car radio that only gets one station. And it's mostly static.

"The tourist Tito will simply sit and watch," said a spokesman for the Russian Space Agency.

Fabulous. They won't even let him steer. What's he going to hit up there? A stop sign? A squirrel?

"Oh, baby. Stop this thing. I'm having too much fun!"

But there's a much bigger problem than that.

The Russians can't make toasters that work. Every mechanical device in the country is broken. Have you ever seen a Russian car? There's one model, one color, and such lines . . . they all look like refrigerators laid on their sides. Fred Flintstone had nicer wheels.

So you're going to climb inside a Russian-made refrigerator and trust it to propel you into space, and back, in one piece? And not lose your luggage?

Let's say he makes it back alive. Now what? He's a hit on the cocktail party circuit, but that wears off. I can easily see the day, a few months from now, when Tito is in line at Kmart wearing a shirt that reads:

I spent six days in outer space and all I got was this lousy T-shirt.

The Russians made out pretty well on this deal. And since there are probably a lot of really wealthy, really bored people out there, the skies could one day be filled with refrigerators.

"I love space," Tito said before liftoff.

If I loved space and had that kind of loot, I'd buy North Dakota.

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