Tito Gets a Hero Reception at Star City
By Yuri Karash
Moscow Contributing Correspondent
posted: 01:00 pm ET
17 May 2001
STAR CITY, Russia -- The Gagarin Cosmonauts Training Center hosted an official welcoming ceremony Wednesday for first space tourist Dennis Tito and his two-man cosmonaut crew, who returned to Earth last week after a 10-day mission.
Well-known Russian politicians were among those who turned out to honor the Soyuz TM-32/31 crew of Mission Commander Talgat Musabayev, Flight Engineer Yuri Baturin and Dennis Tito, whose cumulative age make them the oldest crew in the history of manned spaceflight. The Russian political presence Wednesday is a clear sign of support from the Russian government of the controversial mission that placed Tito, the first paying space tourist, onboard the Soyuz vehicle for a visit to the International Space Station (ISS).
Former prime ministers Eugueny Primakov and Sergey Stepashin were among the guests at the ceremony. Primakov is currently the leader of the parliamentary faction Otechestvo (Motherland) in the State Duma. Stepashin, now chairman of the State Accounting Chamber, Russias highest auditing body, was also present.
Primakov and Stepashin also visited Star City to welcome their friend and former colleague Yuri Baturin, a former president aide to Boris Yeltsin on military and security issues.
The noontime ceremony began with resting flowers at the base of Yuri Gagarins monument at the City. The crew and guests then proceeded to the Officers Hall, the main ceremony building of the center, where they had an official meeting. The Star City orchestra played both the American and the Russian national anthems. Then a number of speakers addressed the crew with welcoming and congratulatory speeches.
Flight of nationalities, courage
Valery Alaverdov, First Deputy General Director of the Russian space agency Rosaviakosmos called the Soyuz three-man team "the first fully international crew." Each crew member is of a different nationality: Musabayev is Kazakh, Baturin is Russian and Tito is American.
Alaverdov also called Tito a very persistent, courageous man who pursued his dream from his childhood and for this reason deserves all kind of respect.
"Titos flight has proven a high quality and reliability of the Russian space hardware and space medicine that can support a flight of an `amateur cosmonaut," stressed Alaverdov.
Stepashin joked that he would speak on behalf of all former prime ministers of Russia and called Tito a "comrade," praising his courage.
"I hope that our President [Putin] will decorate you with the Order of Courage. You will be the first U.S. citizen to get such high award," Stepashin said. The former prime minister promised to put in a good word for Tito so he could be considered for the award. The guests applauded this decision.
"[Space] professionals will always find a common language, no matter who occupies Kremlin or White House," remarked Stepashin. "This could be confirmed by our joint work within the ISS program."
Stepashin called space one of few areas in Russia where the country could speak like an equal with the Western countries, and which assures Russias priority in industry, economy and fundamental sciences.
"Both the Accounting Chamber and State Duma must do everything possible to assure that our space program would both be worthy of the national glorious space history and meet the current highest world standards," emphasized Stepashin.
The Chairman of the Accounting Chamber called Flight Engineer Baturin a "white crow" in Russias politics because "it is highly difficult for an honest and noble man [like Baturin] to survive in these politics. Baturin flew away from politics in a rocket," joked Stepashin.
Mission Commander Musabayev said that he did not want to be classified as a "Kazakh cosmonaut."
"When I say my motherland I dont separate Kazakhstan from Russia because I was born in the Soviet Union, when Russia and Kazakhstan were a single country," Musabayev said.