May 6, 2021

MOSCOW — The world’s first fare-paying space tourist has safely returned to Earth, fulfilling a lifelong dream to travel into orbit by spending a week at the International Space Station.

California businessman Dennis Tito and his two cosmonaut colleagues — commander Talgat Musabayev and flight engineer Yuri Baturin — ended their Soyuz taxi mission with a hard landing on the steppes of Kazakhstan at 1:42 a.m. EDT (05:41 GMT).

It was the first time in program history that an American had landed in a Russian spaceship.

Rescue crews were expected to greet the three men within the hour and then fly them first to Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, then home to Star City near Moscow, where they were expected to arrive for a reunion with family and friends about 10:30 a.m. EDT (14:30 GMT).

Speaking before their late Saturday departure from Space Station Alpha, Tito told interviewers on the ground that the whole spaceflight experience was everything he had hoped for.

“I’ve had the time of my life. I’ve achieved my dream and nothing could have been better,” Tito said. “I thank everybody that supported my mission.”

Tito paid as much as $20 million for the right to be strapped into the third seat of a Soyuz spacecraft that was already scheduled to be launched to the frontier outpost to replace a Soyuz lifeboat that has spent the past six months docked to the station.

Russian flight rules call for Soyuz spacecraft to be exchanged every six months because the corrosive fuel they carry wears out over time and can damage the rocket’s plumbing.

As a result, Tito and his crewmates were launched April 28 to ferry a new Soyuz up to the station to replace the Soyuz that was used on Oct. 31, 2000 to launch the Expedition One crew to Alpha. It was that older Soyuz in which Tito and crew returned to Earth on Sunday.

NASA objected to the flight saying Tito presented a safety hazard to the current Expedition Two crew and agency chief Daniel Goldin has threatened to send Russia a bill for the extra costs they claim the situation has incurred.