Digital-Age Guru Signs on as Backup Space Tourist

Digital-Age Guru Signs on as Backup Space Tourist
Backup space tourist Esther Dyson floats in weightlessnes during a Zero G flight aboard a modified aircraft in 2007. (Image credit: Space Adventures/Zero G.)

Digital-Ageguru and entrepreneur Esther Dyson has bought a $3 million ticket to train asthe backup for a billionaire American space tourist set to launch next year.

Dyson,daughter of the eminent physicist Freeman Dyson, signed on as the backup toAmerican software developer Charles Simonyi, who is paying $35 million tolaunch on his second trip to the International Space Station in March 2009. Hewill launch aboard a Russian-built Soyuz spacecraft under a deal brokered bythe Vienna, Va.-based firm Space Adventures, in which Esther Dyson is aninvestor.

?I fullyexpect to follow him all the way up to space sometime in the future,? Dysonsaid in a statement of Simonyi, who first flew tothe space station with Space Adventures in April 2007. ?My father helpeddesign a rocket ship when I was a kid, and I have always assumed I will go intospace myself.?

Dyson?sfather, a longtime proponent of space travel and colonies, participated in workto develop a massive spacecraft propelled by hydrogen bombs as part of ProjectOrion in the late 1950s. The effort was chronicled in a book by Dyson?s brotherGeorge.

A veteraninvestor in digital media, Esther Dyson is the chairman of the EDventureHoldings Inc. and founded the FlightSchool conference for entrepreneurs interested in aviation and spaceflight.She also serves as a director for non-profit groups such as the SunlightFoundation, Santa Fe Institute and National Endowment for Democracy.

?Not onlyis Esther a successful investor and philanthropist, but she is also well-knownin the blogosphere,? said Space Adventures President and CEO Eric Anderson in astatement. ?She will be sharing her spaceflight training experience andinsights with thousands of people and will undoubtedly inspire others to pursuetheir own dreams.?

SpaceAdventures is currently the only firm offering private seats aboard orbitalspacecraft and has flown five space tourists to the International Space Stationsince beginning the service in 2001. The sixth space tourist, American computergame developer Richard Garriott, is set to launch toward the space station withtwo professional astronauts on Oct. 12. Simonyi?s flight will follow in March2009. Dyson will also train for that flight.

?My chances of going this spring are probably about 5 percent,? Dyson wrote inher blog, where she is chronicling her spaceflight training. ?But my chances ofever goingwill probably be about 50 percent once I complete the training.?

Dyson isnot the first millionaire to lay down cash for a backup space tourist seat.

In 2006,American entrepreneur and Space Adventures investor Anousheh Ansari served asthe backup for Japanese businessman Daisuke Enomoto, who was ultimatelydisqualified for the trip due to medical reasons. Ansari flew in his place asthe world?s first female space tourist, though Enomoto recently launched alawsuit to seeka $21 million refund from Space Adventures over the matter.

Meanwhile,Garriott has not been alone while training to follow in the astronaut footstepsof his father ? retired NASA astronaut Owen Garriott. Australian entrepreneurNik Halik, a self-described?thrillionaire,? has been training as thebackup for that planned 11-day spaceflight. Garriott will become the firstAmerican second-generation spaceflyer when he launches spaceward on Sunday.

By the endof her training, Dyson will be certified as a fully trained cosmonaut andassigned to an official space crew as Simonyi?s backup, Anderson said.

?This is adistinction that less than 1,000 people have ever had,? he added. ?We lookforward to the day when she launches to space herself.?


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Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.