CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida If aspiring space tourist Richard Garriott wants advice on living in orbit, he can ask his father, a former NASA astronaut who spent two months aboard the first U.S. space station 24 years ago.
The Vienna, Virginia-based firm Space Adventures announced on Friday that it had arranged a trip for Garriott, who is the company's largest investor as well as a noted computer game developer, to the International Space Station in October 2008. The company has arranged five previous flights to the station for adventure-seeking entrepreneurs.
"I think everyone has the fantasy or the desire to travel in space," said Garriott, 46, whose family lived in the Houston area near NASA. "But for me, I grew up in an environment where not only was my dad actually going to space but both of my next-door neighbors were astronauts, the guy behind me over the fence was an astronaut. Basically, the whole neighborhood was either astronauts or engineers in support of NASA.
"I just sort of assumed that one day we would all be going to space," said Garriott, who is paying about $30 million for his trip.
The astronaut's son showed an early penchant for developing computer games and dropped out of college to devote himself full time to the endeavor, which has paid off handsomely.
"My income in the computer gaming industry superseded my dad's income as an astronaut while I was in high school," said Garriott, who developed the Ultima series and co-founded the North American subsidiary of Korea's NCsoft Corp, the world's largest online game developer and publisher.
When it came to his private life and investments, Garriott shunned the virtual world and launched himself into adventure travel, commercial space endeavors and scientific research, a passion he shares with father Owen Garriott.
The elder Garriott retired from NASA in 1986 after two spaceflights, including a two-month stay aboard Skylab, the first U.S. space station. He also held several management positions, including project scientist for the budding space station program.
Since then, father and son have traveled to the bottom of the sea to collect exotic microbes that live in hydrothermal vents and to Antarctica to hunt for meteorites.
Owen Garriott's biotech company, ExtremoZyme Inc, will be flying protein crystals for Richard to tend while in orbit and return to Earth for laboratory analysis. Microgravity is believed to enhance crystal formation, which can be used in development of new drugs and other products.
Space Adventures is marketing Garriott's flight as the first in a series for commercial use of the space station. NASA, which originally intended a broad suite of science experiments on the outpost, has canceled research that does not pertain to the agency's new lunar exploration program.
The station remains under construction and is scheduled for completion in 2010.
While the United States only flies professional astronauts, specially trained tourists and other space travelers have been able to fly to the station aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft.
So far four U.S. citizens and a South African, who all paid up to $25 million each, have traveled to the ISS.
Russia has unveiled plans to send up its own first space tourist -- a 40-year-old grocery tycoon and parliamentary deputy, Vladimir Gruzdev, who may fly in September 2008 or March 2009.
(Additional reporting by Chris Baldwin in Moscow)