Thursday, July 31, 2008

Next Space Tourist, Station Crew Eager to Fly

Staff Writer

Originally Posted: 30 July 2008

6:10 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON - America's next space tourist and a new space station crew are gearing up for an October launch to the International Space Station (ISS).

Computer game developer Richard Garriott, along with U.S. astronaut Michael Fincke and Russian cosmonaut Yuri Lonchakov are slated to launch Oct. 12 aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft from Kazakhstan's Baikonur Cosmodrome spaceport.

Garriott, the son of former NASA astronaut Owen Garriott, who flew aboard the U.S. Skylab station and a U.S. shuttle, is set to become the first second-generation U.S. spaceflyer. He is flying under a $30 million deal brokered with Russia's Federal Space Agency by the Virginia-based firm Space Adventures to visit the ISS for about a week.

"To be frank this price tag is the majority of my wealth, to be honest," Garriott said Wednesday at a NASA briefing in Houston. "The reason why it's worth that to me is that this is the goal I've been working toward for a significant portion of my adult life."
The Austin, Texas resident is famous for creating the "Ultima" series of online computer games. His latest release, "Tabula Rasa," is an online science fiction game chronicling humanity's exodus from Earth after a major cataclysm. He plans to carry a so-called "immortality drive," a flash drive repository of information, including digital versions of the DNA from some computer gamers, copies of the avatars in one of his games, as well as an archive of mankind's greatest achievements.

"Since I'm getting a chance to go to space myself, I would be remiss without finding a way to connect to the community of gamers from space," Garriot said.

Garriott will be the sixth space tourist to vacation at the ISS. He plans to devote his stay to research, including protein crystallization and Earth observation experiments, with his father serving as chief scientist. He is scheduled to return to Earth with Expedition 17 Commander Sergei Volkov, himself a second-generation cosmonaut, and flight engineer Oleg Kononenko on Oct. 23 in a Soyuz.

Fincke, who made one previous trip to the space station as a flight engineer on the Expedition 9 crew, is set to lead the new Expedition 18 crew as commander. Lonchakov will serve as flight engineer. The main goal of their mission is to outfit the ISS to host six-person crews, double the population of its current three-person capacity.

"It's going to take us a lot of work, but it's the next step in getting the space station fully operational and we've got the right crew for it," Fincke said. "We think of ourselves as a can-do crew."

Two other members of the Expedition 18 crew, NASA astronaut Sandra Magnus and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Koichi Wakata, are scheduled to fly on later shuttle missions. Magnus plans to ride aboard the November STS-126mission to become a space station flight engineer, while Wakata intends to arrive on the STS-119 mission in early 2009 to relieve her.

One member of the Expedition 18 crew is already aboard the space station. NASA astronaut Gregory Chamitoff, who launched to the ISS in June, is currently serving as a flight engineer with the station's Expedition 17 crew. He plans to stay aboard with Fincke and Lonchakov for the first stage of Expedition 18 before turning his slot over to Magnus in November.

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