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Garriott in zero-g
Space tourist Richard Garriott during a zero-g airplane flight last year. Garriott is scheduled to fly to the ISS this fall. (credit: richardinspace.com)

An interview with Richard Garriott

Mind and skills

Sam Dinkin, The Space Review (TSR): Are you finding some parallels in your final training with the player experience in Tabula Rasa (TR)?

Richard Garriott: Interesting you should ask! There are definitely some overlaps! Learning to use new high tech devices in an alien environment, in an alien language…

TSR: Is it easier to learn Logos [an alien language in TR] or Russian?

Garriott: Logos was designed to be easy to read, no question it is far easier!

TSR: Are you wishing there was a way to skip the astronaut training the way you can skip boot camp if you want in TR?

Garriott: Not at all! Boot camp here is part of the experience I am thrilled to be part of!

TSR: Have any funny training anecdotes?

Garriott: How I long for the massive variety of food available in the USA, or even Moscow. Here in Star City, we eat at the military Flight Cantina. While the food is tasty enough, it appears we are having pretty much the same thing at every meal of every day!

Crafting supplies

TSR: Did you bring some nucleotides, nano mechs, and a TR “crafting station” to do your scientific research on the International Space Station (ISS)?

Garriott: Close! I will be bringing a variety of proteins up to the ISS to crystallize in microgravity, to then return to the X-ray diffraction “station” back in Huntsville.

TSR: Can you give a technical description of the experiments you’re doing?

In addition to many more commercial and educational activities, I will be doing the first art show in space featuring the art of my mother

Garriott: I have many, but the most interesting involves protein crystal growth. Getting an accurate atomic structure for protein molecules is very valuable for science and medicine. One of the best ways to image a protein molecule is to first crystallize it and then use a process called x-ray diffraction to see what its shape is. However, crystals grown on the ground are generally impure due to tiny convection currents in the fluid they are crystallizing in. In space there are no such currents. We believe we have a novel and, more importantly, better way to do this than has been tried before. If this works out, we can demonstrate a process of great potential commercial value!

TSR: Anything else cool that you’re bringing?

Garriott: In addition to many more commercial and educational activities, I will be doing the first art show in space featuring the art of my mother, who inspired half the brain that was required for me to be in the high-tech art business.

Body

TSR: How does the weather there compare to Austin’s 25°C and sunny today?

Garriott: Cold for me, warm by local standards. It snows almost exactly every other day!

TSR: How’s the food compared to Uchi [a Japanese restaurant in Austin]?

Garriott: Uchi, oh how I miss you! Tyson Cole, please send me a care package! Hudson’s, Salt Lick, Jeffries… yum. While the food in Moscow is great, out here I am on a military base, and while the food is good quality, it lacks variation, and Austin has some of the best cuisine in the world, as you know.

TSR: Are you doing a special Austin meal for the crew while you are there?

Garriott: Actually I do plan to throw an “event” later in the year, but I have to figure out how to pull it off. An interactive event, as I am known for in Austin, would be fun to do here!

TSR: Were you able to paint your space suit a custom color like you can in TR?

Garriott: Actually, yes! There is a gentleman I have heard that has made everyone’s space suit since Gagarin. I hear that when you meet with him, it’s sort of like a custom fashion designer session, and you get to select colors, style, and anything else you want!

TSR: What do you think the main environmental difference will be on the ISS?

Garriott: Beyond the obvious like weightlessness and being totally enclosed, due to the deadly vacuum outside the hull, orientation will be the main variation I expect. The ISS is now the scale of a 747, and has modules extending in all directions. Floors, ceilings and walls all have windows, equipment racks and storage lockers and bags. Since there is no up or down in pretty much every sense of the words, I think that will be an interesting adjustment.

Backpack

TSR: How much has the fall in the dollar vs. the ruble raised the price from what Dennis Tito paid? Did you bring a backpack full of $100 bills?

Garriott: Actually the unfavorable changes in exchange rates have significantly affected the cost of doing this trip!

TSR: It will be about $75 per second of zero G for you; wouldn’t it be cheaper to float in neutral buoyancy in Austin?

Garriott: Yes, and as much fun as floating in Lake Travis would be (and not a bad neutral buoyancy event either) something important would be different.

TSR: What does it cost to buy a candy bar in space, $1,200 per ounce? Is everything in space like a rare TR “purple item”?

Garriott: Oh, yes!

Spirit

TSR: How does it feel to be following your father into space to become the first second-generation astronaut?

Garriott: Great! It has also become a great opportunity to work closely with my father, which is a great bonding time for us as adults!

TSR: Once you have achieved your life’s ambition, what heights will you scale next? How about a flight around the Moon?

Garriott: There is still a lot of “exploring” to do here on Earth, and while I would love to go to the Moon, I will likely be happy with my time in orbit for the time being!

TSR: In the opening sequence of TR, people were oblivious, then the world changed radically over night. Does an asteroid strike or climate change worry you?

I hope to learn how to better make space a viable reality for everyone. To do that, I think it needs to be shown that the investment in space is worth it.

Garriott: While some day an asteroid will in fact hit the earth, in any given year the probability is so slight that it is not something to get too excited about other than to start developing the technology for the eventual day that it does arrive. Climate change, however, is very real, and will absolutely affect millions upon millions of people well within our life times. It is not that the world will end, but at the very least, many already impoverished areas will be further decimated, and the economic shifts could affect us dramatically!

TSR: Can you sum up the key theme of what you want the world to learn from your flight?

Garriott: I hope to learn how to better make space a viable reality for everyone. To do that, I think it needs to be shown that the investment in space is worth it. That is why I hope that at least some of my experiments pay off. If even one does, it will mean that there are more that can be done, and thus justify further flights by private individuals and companies.


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