Traveling up to the International Space Station is something very few of us will ever have a chance to do, except perhaps in a virtual world. Richard Garriott is making the trip in real life on October 12, and as you may know, he's also the cofounder of Destination Games, makers of the sci-fi MMORPG Tabula Rasa. I had the opportunity to talk to him a while ago about his upcoming flight, how it will be tied into certain events in the game, the state of Tabula Rasa, and more.
Going up to the space station, that's really an extraordinary undertaking. It must be pretty thrilling, even after some of the other extreme adventuring you've done.
RG: Yeah it's not your usual weekend outing. As you know I'm a big adventurer, so to speak, but in many ways all those other adventures have been part of the lead up to this. In fact, a lot of the companies I've used to take myself to places like Anartica and the deep sea, are operated by a group of us who also own Zero G Corp., which does parabolic flights, participated in the X-Prize (a $10 million contest for privately funded suborbital vehicles), and Space Adventures, which has sent 5 previous people to space and I'm the sixth. So there are a group of us who are like serial entrepreneurs in extreme travel.
You will be the first American second-generation astronaut, but I hear there is another second-generation space explorer on the crew.
RG: That's correct, I'll be flying in space with Sergey Volkov, who is the first second-generation Russian to travel to space. So when we return together in late October, both our fathers will be there, and it will be a good photo op for the dawn of generation 2 of space travel.
You'll be going up a Russian Soyuz rocket and coming back in a capsule - is that correct?
RG: Yes, on October 12, which is Columbus Day, I'll launch out of Kazakhstan, part of the former Soviet Republic just south of Russia, at a place called the Baikonur Cosmodrome. It'll take about 8 minutes in the Soyuz to go from zero miles an hour on the ground to 17,210 miles an hour and reach orbit, then I'll spend 2 days on the Soyuz as we close in on, rendevouz with, and dock with the International Space Station. I'll spend 8 days living and working aboard the ISS, and after 10 days total in space, we'll undock, drift to a safe distance before firing up our main engines, and do a deorbit burn. As soon as we encounter the atmosphere it will only take about 8 minutes again to decrease our speed enough to deploy our parachutes, and hopefully have a soft landing out the in Kazakhstan wastes.
There's a lot of training involved; have you finished it or is there more to go?
RG: More to go. I'm about 2/3 of the way through it. I've been spending about half my time in Russia since January and next week I go to NASA for a week of training, and then back to Russia until the flight in October.
I hear you've already completed some survival training for the trip.
RG: Yes, I did. We did both outdoor survival in the woods, using bits and pieces scavenged off the spacecraft, and we also did open sea survival, where they drop you in a space capsule out in the Black Sea. Before you pop the hatch in the event of a water landing, everyone has to change out of the space suits and into sea survival gear in the astonishingly small amount of space available in the descent module, and that's a true challenge - a very, very difficult proceedure.
Having any second thoughts after going through that?
RG: Oh no, of course not. That's part of the fun of doing this is to go through all of training proceedures, and making sure that you're comfortable and confident you can do them all. It's not the kind of activity you want to get into if you're at all clastrophobic or you can't handle mentally or physically arduous tasks.
I think that rules me out, I don't even like flying. So is there an emergency proceedure for a clogged toilet? Evidently that sort of thing still happens on space stations.
RG: Oh yes, in fact, I've been through all the life support systems of which the toilets are a major part. It's really funny you know, one of the most common questions from children is how do you go to the bathroom in space. But it also turns out, as I have dinner with NASA astronauts and Russian cosmonauts fairly regularly while I'm out there, one of the most common dinner conversations is how do the toilets work, and how do you optimize their functionality and avoid making a mess of it, so even among the professionals it's a hot topic, you might say.
I understand you'll be conducting experiments while you'll up there.
RG: While I'm onboard I have a long list of activities, commercial through educational, and one of my favorite activities is going to be to connect to Tabula Rasa (TR) players here on Earth. As you know, we've recently shipped Tabula Rasa, which is a science fiction game involving humanity spreading out through space, and here I am going to space. So we have a number of fun things planned as we ramp up for Operation Immortality. The background fiction of TR involves an alien invasion of Earth, so I'm taking with me, a time capsule of sorts, that includes the data about all the player characters in TR, and other things including gene sequencing of some of the lucky participants, so that just in case the Earth is invaded sometime in the future, we will be storing the essence of humanity up there on the space station to avoid the catastrophe that might befall the Earth.
In addition to that I have a fair bit of serious science and commercial work planned, including protein crystal growth, where I'll be growing crystals of a variety of proteins from about 1000 microstraws of protein solution that I take with me. The images we get from those crystals are of extremely high value to pharmaceutical companies. In fact, I've already pre-sold the results of a lot of these experiments to subsidize a good chunk of the cost of my flight to space. I'm trying to do this as a demonstration that it's possible to completely cover the price of flying into space by the valuable research that can be done while in space.