Richard Garriott Heads To Space

 American millionaire Richard Garriott followed in his astronaut father’s footsteps on Sunday, blasting off aboard a Russian rocket to become the world’s sixth space tourist.

Sealed inside the Soyuz TMA-13 capsule together with a Russian cosmonaut and a US astronaut, Garriott, a renowned videogame developer, was catapulted towards the International Space Station (ISS) from the Baikonur base in the dusty steppes of Kazakhstan at 7.01am GMT.

Several hundred observers were present at the launch site and they applauded as the rocket roared into the blue skies overhead from the pad where Yury Gagarin, the world’s first man in space, was launched in 1961.

Within 10 minutes of the launch, controllers confirmed the spacecraft had entered its planned orbit. Champagne corks popped as family and friends of the crew celebrated the apparently successful start of the mission.

“I’m very happy for him,” said Garriott’s girlfriend, Kelly Miller, tears welling up in her eyes.

“It’s one of the things he always wanted to do… I feel like it’s well worth the opportunity.”

Among those watching the launch was the South Korean cosmonaut Yi So-Yeon, who went into space for a mission in April. She said she was “very moved”.

“I don’t know why, but I cried,” she told AFP. “Now Richard has become a real cosmonaut.”

Four hours into the mission, controllers said everything was proceeding as planned, RIA Novosti news agency said.

“The crew feels normal and is in good shape,” the report said.

The flight, which is costing Garriott $30-million, was programmed to settle into orbit about nine minutes after take-off and reach the ISS at 8.33am GMT on Tuesday.

A family tradition

Garriott, who now becomes the first American to follow a parent into space, hopes to be able to recoup the money he paid for the experience.

Unlike the five space tourists who came before him, Garriott views space as a family business.

His father is former US astronaut Owen Garriott, who in 1973 spent two months aboard Skylab, the first orbiting space station.

“I grew up in a family of astronauts and I always wanted to do what my father did,” the 47-year-old said ahead of his long-awaited departure.

Owen Garriott, also present at his son’s launch, seemed well pleased with his son.

“It’s marvellous,” the elder Garriot said after the rocket roared off the launch pad. “Very good.”

Garriott finally got the chance to fulfil his childhood dream when Space Adventures, the US-based company that specialises in taking wealthy tourists into orbit, announced in September 2007 he would be its next space tourist.

“It is a goal I have been working on for 20 to 30 years,” Garriott, who underwent a rigorous regime of medical examinations and months of training to be allowed aboard the flight, said in a pre-flight interview.

“At the age of 47, I still consider myself a fairly young man, and I believe I will continue to build new businesses which will allow me to continue my exploration of the world,” said the British-born resident of Texas.

Aboard the ISS, he plans to perform several experiments on subjects including the effect of space travel on the immune system and the sleep characteristics of astronauts.

“I am trying to demonstrate with my flight … that private participants can do business in space that returns revenues at similar scales to the cost,” he told a press conference on Saturday.

“I am generating significant revenues through my activities … that I believe will be increased in the future.”

During his 10-day trip into space, Garriott is to be accompanied by Russian cosmonaut Yuri Lonchakov and US astronaut Michael Fincke. They will work on expanding the ISS so that it can accommodate six crew members instead of the present three.

Lonchakov and Fincke will spend about six months in space replacing the existing crew, due to return to earth on 24 October with Garriott.