WASHINGTON -- When he was growing up in Houston, the son of an astronaut who lived in a neighborhood filled with astronauts and aerospace engineers, Richard Garriott always assumed that he would fly in space. After all, it was an experience his father described in very fact-of-the matter terms as a "nominal" experience.
Garriott, now a multimillionaire video game developer, will achieve his life-long goal of traveling into space in October 2008, but it was not an easy road -- or inexpensive.
Garriott, 46, is the son of NASA astronaut Owen Garriott, who participated in two space missions including the 1973 Skylab 3 mission that orbited the Earth for 59 days and smashed the previous record for manned spaceflight duration. The younger Garriott is scheduled to become the sixth paying space tourist and the first offspring of an American astronaut to visit space.
Growing up near the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center in Nassau Bay, Texas, Garriott?s neighbors on three sides were all astronauts. Everyone he knew was a NASA engineer in one way or another, so it seemed inevitable to him that he would grow up and go to space.
"It was a shock to me that as I got older, there were lots of reasons why going into space was such a rare commodity," Garriott said Tuesday in a media roundtable event in Washington sponsored by the Space Foundation.
His poor eyesight alone was enough to disqualify him from a NASA space mission. So he understood early in life that if he were to go into space, it would not be as a government astronaut, it would be through a private enterprise.
Passion for World Building
Garriott?s passion for computers and building worlds to explore within them made him wealthy from a young age. He developed his first video game when he was in high school, one that generated $150,000 in personal revenue. He is also the creator of the popular Ultima series of online games and has started and sold two video game companies.
Garriott paid $30 million for his trip to space tourism firm Space Adventures of Vienna, Va., a company for which he sits on the board of directors. A Russian Soyuz rocket will launch him up to the International Space Station where he will spend several weeks. Garriott is contemplating paying another $15 million to take a spacewalk.
In January Garriott will leave for Star City, Russia, where his mission training will begin. He will learn spacecraft operation, survival and experimental training there as well as undergo medical testing to ensure he is ready for space.
The hardest part of his training will not be the physical rigors, he said. As a high-school computer prodigy, Garriott was permitted to develop his own self-taught computer curriculum in lieu of the two-year foreign language requirement. So learning his first foreign language, the Russian he will need to operate his space capsule, will be his greatest challenge.
Bonding with Dad
The thrill of being one of the first 500 humans to leave the planet is not Garriott?s only goal. He is a true believer in the commercial value of manned spaceflight and will be taking with him a series of experiments he hopes will generate profit. In one experiment his father helped design, protein crystals will be made in the zero-gravity environment. The crystals form perfectly under these conditions, and accurate images of their structures are extremely valuable to pharmaceutical companies, he said.
"We're in the search for more and more of these activities that are not just research," Garriott said. "We're trying to find something that has resale value."
Owen Garriott is now serving as his son?s chief scientist for the mission, helping his son find and verify the best commercial and scientific research activities for the mission.
"It's a great father-son bonding time," the younger Garriott said. "We haven?t had the chance to really work closely together like this. So it?s very cool from my perspective that I?ve got one of the world?s leading experts close at hand who also happens to have such a deep personal relationship [with me]."
Several weeks ago Garriott had a conversation with astronaut Alan Bean, who flew with Garriott?s father on Skylab 3. Bean emphasized how important he thinks it is for people who are not military pilots to go up and experience space travel, as they will be well-suited when they return to talk about space travel and how it can be expanded in an entrepreneurial way.
Bean also told Garriott he does not expect him to experience the emotional letdown some astronauts have felt after achieving their long-time goal of getting to space. Garriott has had similar conversations with all five previous space tourists who told him the same thing.
"The feedback I?m getting from those I consider close to me imply this is going to do nothing but add to my life experience," Garriott said.
Garriot said his father is separated enough from his time in NASA?s space program that he now regards the experience as more than just a nominal.
"He clearly gets a much bigger gleam in his eye when he reflects on some of the early pioneering work he had the chance to do."
Garriott is chronicling his spaceflight training and mission at his personal Web site: www.richardinspace.com.
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