After ISS Flight, U.S. Space Tourist Returns Home

Home Again: U.S. Space Tourist, Expedition 11 Crew Return to Earth
Russian ground personnel members carry U.S. millionaire Gregory Olsen shortly after the landing near the town of Arkalyk in northern Kazakhstan, early Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2005. The Soyuz capsule carrying space tourist Gregory Olsen, American astronaut John Phillips and Russian cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev landed early Tuesday on the vast steppes of Kazakhstan some three hours after separating from the International Space Station. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)

NEW YORK - Theworld's third fare-paying visitor to the International Space Station (ISS) isback home in the U.S. after a successful spaceflight that peaked with 10 daysin orbit.

GregoryOlsen, a U.S. scientist and entrepreneur who reportedly paid about $20million to visit the ISS, said Monday that not only was the trip worth thehefty price, but he's more than willing to go again after taking some time toreflect on the experience.

"I want todigest this and see what my next move in life is," Olsen, 60, told SPACE.com,adding that he shook off the effects of spaceflight about 24 hours afterlanding. "The first day I came back I was a little wobbly."

Olsen returnedto Earth on Oct. 10 with Expedition11 commander Sergei Krikalev and flight engineer John Phillips, who hadwrapped up a six-month mission to the space station. The landing came about 10days after Olsen launchedto the ISS with Expedition12 commander Bill McArthur and flight engineer Valery Tokarev. Olsen said he returned to the U.S. on Oct. 15.

The mostmemorable aspect of the flight by far was floating around the ISS and watchingEarth pass by in the window, Olsen said, adding that liftoff - just as therocket began to rise toward space - was also a highlight.

Olsenshared his spaceflight experience with students via ham radio sessions from theISS, and he hopes to continue that process now that he's back on Earth.

"It'sextremely important," Olsen said of sharing his flight with others. "We wantto go into space, it's the next step in exploration ...we need to fire up theimaginations of people."

Aninteresting landing

While Olsen'slaunch and Oct. 3 dockingat the ISS were smooth, a pressurization glitch aboard the Soyuz TMA-6 carryinghim and the Expedition 11 crew home made for an interesting descent.

"We hadcertain problems with pressurization before undocking and certain pressurizationproblems in the descent," Krikalev said during a post-landing press conferenceon Oct. 13, according to Russia's Interfax News Agency. "In fact, it was afairly serious situation."

But theExpedition 11 astronauts kept their cool, as well as close tabs on the glitch, duringreentry, and all three space flyers were clad in their Russian-built Sokol spacesuits - a standard precaution - for an extra layer of protection, Olsen said.

"But at notime was there panic or alarm, or anything of that sort," Olsen said of theglitch, adding that at one point in the descent he added more oxygen into theSoyuz cabin under Krikalev's instructions. "We had practiced that many timesduring simulations...I thought they handled it like pros."

Olsen saidthat while he enjoyed the descent, he was somewhat saddened to say goodbye toExpedition 12's McArthur and Tokarev.

Thescientist-CEO trained repeatedly with the two veteran astronauts, and Tokareveven designed a special patch for Olsen's flight, which he presented to thespaceflight participant one month before launch, Olsen said.

"It was a littletough and a little wistful, because both of them took me under their wings," Olsensaid of his departure. "I felt very grateful to them because they helped me getinto space and I felt I was leaving them behind."

Olsen'sspaceflight capped a challenging road into orbit, which beganin March 2004 but was cut short when an undisclosed medicalcondition prevented him from completing his first round of cosmonauttraining in Russia's Star City. Olsen was able to resumetraining in May 2005, but the period between July 2004 and March 2005 was a "reallytough time," he said.

"I wasdevastated last year with the medical thing," Olsen said. "I felt this [flight]was a vindication."

Olsen'strip followed the 2002 ISS flight by South African Internet mogul MarkShuttleworth and the 2001 trip by U.S. entrepreneur Dennis Tito. All threetrips were brokered by Arlington, Virginia-based space tourism firm SpaceAdventures.

Japanesebusinessman Daisuke Enomoto and an American are reportedly in the running to bethe next paying visitor to the ISS, according to Russia's Federal Space Agencyand the country's Interfax News Agency.

StaceyTearne, a Space Adventures spokesperson, said there's a long list of peopleinterested in becoming the fourth space tourist to the ISS, and an announcementcould come as early as next month.

Anorbital ride

During hisflight, Olsen performed a series of experimentsfor the European Space Agency (ESA) designed to study the human body's reactionspaceflight.

Each day,he would swivel his head and body through a series of planned motions, thenrecord his vestibular reactions in a notebook, Olsen said, adding that he alsoswabbed different areas inside the ISS for a bacterial study.

The amountof stowed cargo in the space station surprised the space tourist - though Olsenprefers the term "spaceflight participant" - but made sense considering the ISScrews spent six months at a time aboard the orbital laboratory, he said.

Longstretches without visiting NASA space shuttles - Discovery's recent ISS flightin July was the first to the station since December 2002 - have prevented crewsfrom shedding all their unneeded items and required them to stock additional spareparts and equipment.

Olsen didlose track of a small digital camera, which accidentally drifted out of hispocket during the spaceflight.

"I had somenice shots of going up in the Soyuz on that," Olsen said adding that he hopesit turns up. "Fortunately, I had a lot of other video and stills from theflight."

Olsen hadhoped to bring up an infrared camera built by Sensors Unlimited, Inc. - the Princeton,New Jersey company he co-founded - to the ISS, but the instrument's shipmentfrom the U.S. to Russia was delayed due to export regulations, he said.

But exportcontrols aside, Olsen said he was very satisfied with life aboard the ISS,adding that the food was tasty - the shrimp cocktail was better than in somerestaurants on Earth - and that he got a chance to dig into the reserved "bonusboxes" that contained extra goodies for ISS astronauts.

"I did raidthe bonus boxes of Krikalev and Phillips since they were going back down," hesaid.

Olsenpraised the multi-national partnership that led to the space station, addingthat the dependability of Russia's Soyuz vehicles is an impressive feat.

"TheRussians do spaceflight very well," Olsen said.

  • Gregory Olsen: Third Space Tourist Aims for Orbit
  • Image Gallery: Space Tourist Greg Olsen's ISS Spaceflight
  • Complete Coverage: ISS Expedition 11
  • Complete Coverage: ISS Expedition 12

Have a news tip, correction or comment? Let us know at community@space.com.