Several video game designers have launched aerospace projects--some with spectacularly fiery results. However, it wasn't until Sunday that the first game developer actually made it into space proper. That's when 47-year-old Richard "Lord British" Garriott, creator of Ultima and Tabula Rasa, took off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in central Kazakhstan aboard a Soyuz TMA-13 rocket, reaching orbit just minutes later.
Site of Soviet-era spaceflight triumphs, such as the first manned spaceflight by Yuri Gagarin in 1961, Baikonur now serves as the hub of the space program of the Russian Federation. To deal with cash shortages, Russia has entered into a partnership with Space Adventures, of which Garriott is a board member. Based in a suburb of Washington, D.C., Space Adventures specializes in shuttling wealthy "space tourists" to the International Space Station aboard Russian rockets for a substantial fee.
How substantial? According to the Associated Press, Garriott paid about $30 million for a 12-day trip into space. On Tuesday, he will dock with the ISS, where he will perform a number of experiments for sponsors helping to defray his trip's costs. As part of his own "Operation Immortality," Garriott also carries a hard drive containing the digitized DNA sequences of academics and celebrities, including physicist Stephen Hawking and late-night TV satirist Stephen Colbert. (Several dozen Tabula Rasa contest winners also had their DNA included.) The drive will be stored on board the ISS after Garriott's October 24 departure so that if the Earth's population is wiped out in some sort of catastrophe, its leading citizens might someday be genetically reconstituted.
"What I am trying to do is demonstrate that you can mount a very successful campaign to go into space and beyond because it's good business," Garriott told the AP.
Garriott also now holds the distinction of being the first American to follow a parent into space. His father, 77-year-old Owen Garriott, spent 60 days aboard Skylab in 1973 and 10 days aboard the space shuttle Columbia in 1983.
Photo Credit: AP/Dmitry Lovetsky