October 13, 2008

U.S. Space Tourist Blasts into Orbit


By Peter Leonard

The Associated Press

BAIKONUR, Kazakhstan

An American computer game designer reached space Sunday, fulfilling a long-deferred childhood dream that began with the flight of his astronaut father.

The Soyuz TMA-13 spacecraft carrying Richard Garriott and two crewmates - and the digitized DNA sequences of some of the world's most famous minds - hurtled into a clear blue sky from the Baikonur facility on the Kazakh steppe.

Garriott, 47, a multimillionaire from Austin, Texas, is the sixth paying space traveler and the first American to follow a parent into orbit.

The Soyuz is due to dock Tuesday with the international space station, where British-born Garriott will spend about 10 days conducting experiments - including some whose sponsors helped fund his trip - and photographing Earth to measure changes since his father snapped pictures from the U.S. station Skylab in 1973.

As the bright orange glow of the rocket disappeared, Garriott's 77-year-old father watched with binoculars.

"I'm elated, elated," Owen Garriott said when a loudspeaker announcement confirmed that the spacecraft had reached orbit safely about 10 minutes after lift-off.

The younger Garriott said before Sunday's launch that he managed to recoup a significant slice of his trip's price - a reported $30 million - through some of his experiments and that he hoped his trip would provide a viable model for financing private space travel.

"What I am trying to do is demonstrate that you can mount a very successful campaign to go into space and beyond because it's good business," Garriott said.

The spacecraft is bearing the digitized DNA sequences of some of the world's greatest thinkers and musicians - as well as athletes, video game players and others.

The eclectic list ranges from famed physicist Stephen Hawking to comedian Stephen Colbert and Matt Morgan, best known as the "Beast" from the U.S. television show "American Gladiators."

The digitized DNA is part of "the immortality drive," a kind of time capsule that will also include a list of humanity's greatest achievements and personal messages from Earth. The program will be stored on the space station in case calamity were to one day wipe out the planet.

Garriott's crewmates on the landmark 100th manned Soyuz flight are Mike Fincke, an American astronaut who spent six months on the international space station in 2004, and Russian Yuri Lonchakov.

Garriott is to return to Earth in a Soyuz capsule on Oct. 24 with cosmonauts Oleg Kononenko and Sergei Volkov, who is the world's first second-generation space traveler. His father, Alexander, was a cosmonaut.

Originally published by BY PETER LEONARD.

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