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Forest Hills native buys trip into space

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Tito and two Russian cosmonauts lifted off from Korolyov, Russia Saturday in a Soyuz rocket headed for the...

By Jennifer Warren

Dennis Tito, the California investment specialist who this week became the first paying tourist to rocket into space, is a Forest Hills native.

Tito and two Russian cosmonauts lifted off from Korolyov, Russia Saturday in a Soyuz rocket headed for the International Space Station. The rocket arrived at its destination Monday.

Broadcasts from within the space station depicted a gleeful Tito hovering virtually weightless within the confines of the ship.

Tito described his experience as “spectacular” and “rewarding,” saying, “I believe I am extremely privileged to have had this opportunity.”

The ticket for his space expedition ran the 60-year-old founder of Wilshire Associates $20 million. He has also agreed to pay for any equipment that he breaks and has forfeited the right to sue if any harm befalls him.

A spokeswoman for Tito said he had likened his home in Forest Hills to the house occupied by Archie Bunker in the widely popular television show “All in the Family” about Queens.

Tito had initially asked NASA for the opportunity to fly into space, but NASA officials declined the offer, explaining that a non-essential astronaut in the station during the early phases of its operation could prove distracting. But the Russian government, strapped for space funding, accepted Tito’s offer once the United States and other partners of the space station dropped their opposition.

In an interview with Worth Magazine earlier this year, Tito said he had been fascinated with airplanes since his teenage years in Queens. When the Russians initiated the space age with the launch of Sputnik in 1957, he was hooked, he said.

From high school he pursued his passion for space at New York University, where he studied aeronautics and astronautics. He later earned a master’s degree in engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Worth reported.

As a recent grad Tito went to work for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, where he designed spacecraft and their trajectories for flights to Mars and Venus, the magazine said.

In the early 1970s, however, Tito opted to apply his aeronautic computer concepts to investment strategies. His consulting firm, Wilshire Associates of Santa Monica, Calf., now directly manages $10 billion in investments and is widely known for its Wilshire 5000 stock index.

Reach reporter Jennifer Warren by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 155.

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