Review: By Any Means Necessary
by Jeff Foust
|Olsen had apparently given no thought about traveling into space before reading a June 2003 New York Times article about Space Adventures, the US company that was brokering flights on Soyuz missions to the ISS.|
In the introduction to By Any Means Necessary!—published by GHO Ventures, the company he founded several years ago to manage his investments—Olsen summarizes his life in four words: “average guy makes good.” It might seem a bit of a stretch to classify a multimillionaire like Olsen as an average guy, but as he recounts in the book, his career was shaped less by raw talent than by persistence and a fair amount of luck. After completing high school with lackluster grades and a number of disciplinary problems, he very nearly joined the Army, but was persuaded by his father to give college a try. That put him on a path to earning a doctorate, landing a job at RCA Labs, and later starting two companies—not as part of any grand plan, but by taking advantage of opportunities when they appeared.
Similarly, his quest to fly in space was not a lifelong dream but instead a combination of circumstance and effort. Olsen had apparently given no thought about traveling into space before reading a June 2003 New York Times article about Space Adventures, the US company that was brokering flights on Soyuz missions to the ISS. “Reading the article was one of those ‘wow’ moments,” he wrote, seeing spaceflight as both a personal challenge and an opportunity to see what it was like to live in space. He soon contacted Space Adventures and started his bid to go into space.
Olsen’s bid to be the third private citizen to visit the ISS was derailed not once but twice because of medical issues. The first time came in late 2003 after an initial medical screening in Moscow, where doctors raised concerns about his lungs: one lung had spontaneously collapsed a few years earlier, the result of a genetic condition exacerbated by years of smoking, but was fixed in a surgical procedure. The Russian flight surgeons worried that Olsen’s other lung could collapse during the flight. Olsen got a similar procedure on the other lung to prevent a collapse, and was cleared to begin training.
Olsen’s second, and perhaps better-known, medical problem appeared while training for an October 2004 flight opportunity. A routine CT scan of his lungs revealed a black spot that, while not cancerous, was serious enough for the Russians to ground him that June. For nine months Olsen lobbied to be reinstated, particularly after later x-rays showed that the spot—perhaps nothing more than a temporary fungal growth—had disappeared. Olsen went so far as to lobby President Bush during a brief photo-op at a fundraiser. (Olsen’s message, asking if the President could convince the Russians to reinstate him, didn’t get across: Bush responded, Olsen recalls, by saying, “You’re going up into space? Well, buddy, you have more guts than I do,” and then moved on.) Olsen eventually was reinstated in the spring of 2005, the final medical obstacle to his October 2005 flight to the ISS.
|“In the future millions of people will share my experience, as the human race launches off its home planet and travels to other worlds,” he writes in the book’s conclusion.|
By Any Means Necessary! is more about his efforts to fly into space, and his life leading up to that flight, than about the trip itself: he discusses the flight itself only briefly towards the end of the book. (At least as much text is devoted to the ups and downs of his real estate holdings, including a winery in South Africa, a ranch in Montana, and apartments in Manhattan.) Nonetheless, the book is still an engaging read for those curious how one person got so interested in spaceflight he was willing to spend millions of dollars and over two years of his life to fulfill that challenge.
Near the end of the book, Olsen notes that while he’d go back to space “in a minute” if he had the chance, he doesn’t believe that he’ll be able to afford to do so unless he’s able to build up and sell another business. He does, though, try to remain involved by attending launches and other activities, and is optimistic about the future of human spaceflight. “In the future millions of people will share my experience, as the human race launches off its home planet and travels to other worlds,” he writes in the book’s conclusion. In the meantime, though, he’s sharing his experience through his book, offering in the process a lesson of what an “average guy”—albeit with above-average tenaciousness—can accomplish.