- Status Report
- August 7, 2022
Congressional Testimony “Commercial Human Spaceflight” by Dennis Tito, Wilshire Associates
Testimony Submitted to the
Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation
Subcommittee on Science, Technology, and Space
House Committee on Science, Subcommittee on Space & Aeronautics
Joint Hearing on “Commercial Human Spaceflight”
Thursday, July 24, 2003
Thank you to the Chairmen and Ranking Members of both subcommittees for
your invitation to participate in this hearing today.
Over two years ago I achieved a lifelong dream by riding into space aboard a
Russian Soyuz capsule, visiting the International Space Station, and returning safely to
the Earth. I was fortunate enough to have built a very successful investment business,
and equally fortunate that less than a decade after the Cold War, our former space race
competitors had partially privatized their human spaceflight activities and were willing
to sell me a flight.
Since returning from my mission, I have given hundreds of speeches to
audiences in the U.S. and abroad in which I’ve shared my spaceflight experience. The
response has been universally positive, and many listeners – especially young people –
tell me how eager they are to go into space themselves. This isn’t really newsworthy,
given that some 600,000 people have applied to become astronauts over the past 40
years, and large percentages regularly tell pollsters they would fly on the Space Shuttle,
even after Columbia’s tragic loss. Perhaps more importantly, audiences seem genuinely
inspired by the plausibility that one day they or their children could fly into space
Of course, very few people can afford to travel into space as I did, by paying
roughly $20 million for the privilege. Even that high price is probably artificially low,
due to the ongoing economic hardships of the Russian aerospace industry. At the same
time, NASA has had to postpone its development of a second generation reusable
launch vehicle that could carry people and cargo into orbit at lower cost than current
Yet there is a way to make at least a brief experience of space flight available to
many more people. Just as Alan Shepherd and Gus Grissom flew suborbital Mercury
missions before John Glenn eventually orbited the Earth, suborbital rockets can provide
a person with a few minutes of weightlessness and a view of the Earth from 100
kilometers up. In just the past year, entrepreneurs in the U.S. and elsewhere have made
significant progress in developing fully reusable suborbital vehicles which could
economically loft adventure travelers into the shallow waters of space.
Two years ago, when I testified before the House Science Committee, I was asked
if I would invest in a reusable launch vehicle company. At the time I said “no”, and
that was the right answer… then. But today, after talking to thousands of people who
want to fly into space and seeing the progress that’s been made, my answer would be
different. Today I would say “quite possibly.”
There is, however, one barrier that keeps me – and probably many others – from
writing out a check to fund the development of a commercial suborbital RLV. This
stumbling block can only be overcome by people who work in this city, because the
problem itself is located here.
Please understand me: I am not looking for government funding or technology. I
don’t need an investment tax credit or a loan guarantee. I’m not even looking to escape
the regulations under which other space transportation companies operate. But I would
like to know which government agency, and which set of regulations, will oversee this
You see, I am willing to risk my money on a technical concept and a team of
engineers. I am willing to risk my money on the customers actually showing up. And I
am willing to risk my money competing against other companies in the marketplace.
But I am not willing to risk my money on a regulatory question mark, on waiting for the
government to decide who can give me permission to get into business, and what the
regulatory standards for my business will be.
The Commercial Space Launch Act of 1984 gave the Office of Commercial Space
Transportation the exclusive authority to license commercial launches, including
suborbital rockets, and in 1998 Congress extended this authority to include reentries of
reusable launch vehicles. But in the meantime, this office was moved into the Federal
Aviation Administration, an agency that certainly has a lot of other issues on its plate.
Given that some proposed suborbital RLVs will have wings and take off and
land from runways, a question has arisen whether these new vehicles will be regulated
by the commercial space transportation office or by the FAA’s much larger and more
risk-averse aircraft and airline certification division.
This is not a matter of bureaucratic turf. When aerospace pioneer Burt Rutan
rolled out his Spaceship One experimental RLV a few months ago, he declared that he
had no intention of seeking FAA certification of his vehicle as a commercial airplane,
because it would cost hundreds of millions of dollars to meet the same safety
requirements as the Boeing 777. Rutan’s whole privately-funded research and
development program will cost perhaps a tenth of that amount.
If the federal government chooses to regulate this nascent suborbital RLV
industry as stringently as it does the mature, 100-year-old airplane industry, then this
new industry will die before it is even born. Even the possibility of such burdensome
regulation may stop these new RLVs from ever getting off the drawing board, let alone
flying into space.
One reason there is regulatory confusion is that the terms “suborbital rocket”
and “suborbital trajectory” are used in the original Launch Act but never actually
defined. Recently, the FAA has attempted to promulgate clarifying definitions of these
terms, but has been unable to reach internal agreement. This paralysis is a perfect
example of why investors such as myself are worried about how these ventures will be
Mr. Chairman, it was these two committees that originally crafted this
legislation, and which share sole jurisdiction over the U.S. commercial space launch
industry. I respectfully request that you reassert Congress’ long-stated goal of
promoting greater private investment in new domestic space transportation
capabilities. This new industry needs the Congress to mandate in law an enabling
regulatory framework for commercial suborbital human space flight, and ensure that
this job be carried out by the Office of Commercial Space Transportation.
If Congress can reduce the huge regulatory risk faced by potential investors like
myself, I believe that within five years we will ignite a revolution in commercial space
transportation, and inspire a whole new generation of space-faring young Americans.
That is a future I want to work towards for the rest of my career, and one I believe we
will all be proud to have helped achieve.
Dennis A. Tito
Dennis A. Tito is the Chief Executive Officer of Wilshire Associates Incorporated, a leading
provider of investment management, consulting and technology services. Applying science to
the art of money management, Tito and his team of 250 professionals utilize mathematical
formulas to advise a wide variety of institutional and high net worth investors worldwide.
Founded in 1972, Wilshire advises on about $1 trillion in assets, directly manages about $10
billion in assets, and provides analytical tools to some 350 institutions.
Tito earned a B.S. in Astronautics and Aeronautics from NYU College of Engineering and a
M.S. from Rensselaer in Engineering Science. He began his career as an aerospace engineer
with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the age of 23. While serving at JPL, he was
responsible for designing the trajectories for the Mariner spacecraft missions to Mars and Venus.
Although he left to pursue a career in investment management, Tito remained interested in and
committed to the exploration of space.
Employing the same methodology he used to determine a spacecraft’s path, Tito is credited with
helping to develop the field of quantitative analytics that uses mathematical tools to analyze
market risks. In 1974, Tito developed the Wilshire Total Market Index (The Wilshire 5000), the
broadest stock market index that Federal Reserve officials cite as a barometer of the U.S.
Under Tito’s guidance, Wilshire has consistently been an industry pioneer. As the world began
entering the computer age, Wilshire integrated computers with engineering and investment
concepts, to provide some of the first data to money managers, ultimately shaping modern
portfolio management theories.
A philanthropist and civic leader, Tito supports and is actively involved in many charitable and
civic causes including establishing the Dennis A. Tito Gene-Nutrient Interaction Laboratory at
the UCLA Center for Human Nutrition. He formerly served as President of Commissioners for
the Department of Water and Power of Los Angeles.
On April 28, 2001, Tito made history by becoming the first individual to personally pay to travel
into space. Launched from Baikonur, Kazakhstan, Tito served as a crewmember of an eight-day
Russian Soyuz taxi mission to the International Space Station. By fulfilling his 40-year dream to
travel to space, Tito captured the imagination of millions of people worldwide and renewed
interest in the United States space program.
Born August 8, 1940, Tito has one daughter and two sons and currently resides in Pacific