July 31, 2008

Video Game Developer To Become Next Space Tourist

A computer game wizard may spend the bulk of his $30 million fortune to be the world's next space tourist.

Richard Garriott is set to fly on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft mission to the international space station on Oct. 12.  The fall flight will be a historic one as it will be the first by a child of an American astronaut.

"To be frank, this price tag is the majority of my wealth," the 47-year-old Garriott said at a Wednesday press conference in Houston.

According to Garriott, space flight had been a goal he'd been aiming toward for most of his life, but becoming a professional astronaut was out of the question when his eyesight deteriorated.

"But versus being crushed and giving up on that dream, that just set me on the path of saying, 'Oh, wait a minute, you can't tell me no,'" he said. "Literally, throughout my entire professional career, I've been investing in the privatization of space. ... so my father, he was not shocked at all to see me pursuing this."

Owen Garriott, Richard's father, was an American astronaut who visited the Skylab space station in 1973.

The elder Garriott will also be communicating with his son via ham radio.  Owen Garriott was the first man to make a ham radio from space when he made a call during a 1983 shuttle flight.  He will also be stationed at the Russian Mission Control outside Moscow during the mission.

Currently Richard Garriott is at Johnson Space Center spending time learning about the international space station.

Two experienced astronauts, American Mike Fincke, and Russian cosmonaut Yuri Lonchakov will join Garriott on his space flight.  Both will be spending six months at the space station.

Fincke says he has no reservations about taking the flight with an amateur.

"I can see he really understands the importance of what we're doing with space and that he understands the operational side of things," he said.

As a Texas-based video game developer, Richard Garriott has specialized in creating medieval fantasy games, but is moving towards developing science fiction and space based games. He plans to connect with his "gamer" followers by sending messages to them while in orbit.

Garriott will also carry the "immortality drive" with him into space.  The drive carries a list of humanity's greatest achievements, personal messages from humans, and digitized human DNA. The drive will be stored at the space station in case humans became extinct due to a natural or man-made disaster.

The game developer doesn't believe he'll be scared during the launch or landing.

"I'm a devout believer in training well for risky activities," he told reporters.

Currently Sergi Volkov, son of former cosmonaut Alexander Volkov, is living on the international space station.  In a purely coincidental historic oddity, Volkov and Garriott will return to Earth together.

Image Courtesy Wikipedia