A Queens Space Odyssey
By STEPHEN McGUIRE
When a one-time local resident boldly went
where no tourist has gone before this week, a star was born and Queens turned another page
in its extensive history of blazing trails through the final frontier.
A long time ago in a galaxy
close to home there was a young boy living in Queens who dreamed of going on a trip into
The centerpiece of the 1964-65
Worlds Fair, the rings that surround
the Unisphere pay tribute to mans
quest to enter space.
When Dennis Tito grew up, that dream
Tito who reached for the stars as a boy
made it there aboard a Russian space capsule this week.
"I love space," Tito said from
aboard the International Space Station on April 30th.
"It is so spectacular, it is so
rewarding," he said.
Tito, a millionaire investment fund
manager, became the first space tourist when the Soyuz spacecraft carrying the former
Queens resident and two Russian cosmonauts docked at an out-of this world vacation
destination after a two-day journey that began a Russian launch pad on April 28.
The price tag for the trip $20
million paid the cash strapped Russian space program.
"Unfortunately, its very
expensive at this point. But there are others who can afford it and I would like to
encourage it . . . Its time for me to help other people achieve their dreams,"
YEARS AHEAD OF HIS CLASS
Earths first traveler
grew up in Forest Hills the son of a printer father and seamstress mother
and attended Forest Hills High School.
"I remember Tito, He lived across the
street from my house," said Karen Barasch Wixon, a graduate of Forest Hills
Highs class of 1958 who now resides in Houston, Texas.
Space tourist Dennis Tito as he appeared in the 1958 Forest
Hills High School yearbook.
"As a teenager I thought of him
as someone different from the rest of us because I thought he was far more spiritually
advanced," Wixon told the Tribune.
"[Tito] had far more adventure and
bigger dreams and ideas than the rest of us. He was someone that danced to the tune of a
different drummer. So I can see that is not always a bad thing. He was also very avant
garde for his young years. I found him to be a far-out attractive young man, probably with
Judith Sager, a 1958 Forest Hills high grad
who now lives in Hollywood, Florida said, "I had no idea Dennis Tito graduated Forest
Hills High School with me in 1958. I ran to the yearbook and there he was.
"I really didnt know him but he
sure has done well for himself. I do wish he had not gone with the Russians," Sager
Another well-known classmate, City
Comptroller Alan Hevesi, who graduated from Forest Hills High School the same year Tito
did, said that he could not remember the enigmatic space traveler.
After high school, Tito went
on to study aeronautics at New York University before taking on a job with the National
Aeronautics and Space Administration as an aerospace engineer at the NASA Jet Propulsion
Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
Bayside native Ellen Shulman Baker blasted off aboard the
Atlantis in 1989.
Photo Courtesy of NASA
With NASA, Tito worked on plans for
the Mariner spacecraft missions that traveled to Mars and Venus.
Tito began his quest for millions almost 30
years before his first space flight with his California investment company, Wilshire
Associates a group that now provides managing advice for close to $1 trillion in
"The way I see it, the guy grew up in
Queens and he wasnt well off, he went to school and worked for NASA and went off to
make a lot of money," said Titos 23-year-old son Brad in a recent article in
the New York Times.
Tito currently maintains a residence in
Pacific Palisades, California.
Titos flight has
attracted the attention of millions worldwide but has also created some bad blood between
Russia and the U.S. over the use of the International Space Station as a vacation
These titled rockets that were once part of the U.S. Space
Park, are slated for renovation later this year.
Tribune Photo by Ira Cohen
NASA denounced Titos weeklong
space vacation and called the trip improper and possibly unsafe.
Before taking the trip Tito had to agree
that he would not enter the U.S. section of the jointly owned space station without an
escort. He also had to promise that if he broke anything on board the orbiter he would
have to pay for it.
NASA is leader of the international space
station effort and laid the framework for the actual orbiting space structure.
Today 16 countries are members of the
International Space Station Team the United States, Russia, Japan, Canada, Italy,
Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, Norway, France, Spain, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland,
the United Kingdom and Brazil.
THE BOROUGH INTO THE GREAT BEYOND
Dennis Tito is not the first
Queensite to orbit the earth.
In 1989, Ellen Shulman Baker, daughter of
Queens Borough President Claire Shulman left the earths atmosphere aboard the Space
Baker, who attended Bayside High School
before becoming an astronaut, gained distinction for successfully deploying the Galileo
spacecraft on its journey to explore Jupiter.
Baker was also on board the shuttle
Columbia in June of 1992 when it embarked on what was at the time, the longest space
shuttle mission to date.
Baker was among the crew that spent nearly
two weeks in space to study the long-term effects on humans in space.
In 1995, Baker took part in her third
On board the Atlantis, Baker was part of
the team that was the first to dock with the Russian Space Station MIR.
"Looking down on that green-blue
planet was the greatest experience," Baker said about her time spent in space.
But Baker is not a lone Queens space
Astronaut James Wetherbee, who was born in
Flushing in 1957, has taken part in five space shuttle missions since 1990.
Not everyone in Queens can
make the trip into space but some familiar pieces of our borough have already been there.
Among the items Baker took aboard her 1989
shuttle mission were a Queens flag, hundreds of messages from visitors to the New York
Hall of Science and a CD-ROM containing an issue of the Queens Tribune.
In 1977, the Voyager probe was fitted with
a copper plated record containing the son "Melancholy Blues," performed by
Coronas own ambassador of goodwill, Louis Armstrong.
And the EDO plant, which was located in
College Point, was once a manufacturer of parts of the lunar landing module.
TO SPACE TRAVEL
Standing in a semi-upright
position next to the New York Hall of Science are monuments to the early days of
mans flight into space a time when a space vacation like Dennis Titos
was merely the stuff of science fiction.
Originally erected as part of the 1964
Worlds Fair, the U.S. Space Park exhibit at the Fair was site where a rookie
astronaut named Neil Armstrong signed autographs for kids who had no idea what he would
accomplish in years soon to come.
On display was a Titan Rocket with a Gemini
capsule and an Atlas Rocket with a Mercury capsule both still stand in Flushing
The rockets were donated by NASA and the
U.S. Department of Defense to the Hall of Science when the Fair ended.
The rocket park, which has been closed
since 1984, could re-open soon following a restoration project planned for this summer to
the tune of $1 million.
The rocket restoration is part of a major
expansion at the Hall of Science and is being made possible through funding from Borough
President Claire Shulman and Mayor Rudy Giulianis office.
Also in Flushing Meadows Corona
Park, the Unisphere constructed as the centerpiece of the 1964-65 Worlds Fair
was built as a monument to the space age.
The hollow globe was dedicated to
mans achievements in on a shrinking planet in an expanding universe.
The enormous stainless steel globe is
encircled by three intertwining rings that pay tribute to the first Russian manned space
flight, the first communications satellite Telstar and the orbit of the
first manned American space flight.