Headlines > News > Munchkin village mayor tries to go to space

Munchkin village mayor tries to go to space

Published by Robin on Tue Jul 19, 2005 3:00 pm
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via SpaceToday.net:

“Space Adventures has another brand in the fire,” Garriott said. “Which is, a lot of these competitors for the X Prize are not stopping. Their goal is not just to win the X Prize; their goal is to become part of commercial space flight, and so a lot of them are still pursuing completing their craft.”

Garriott hopes a team will complete a craft before Rutan finishes his modifications to SpaceShipOne’s design – especially if he or Space Adventures Ltd. can give the team financial support.

from The Daily Texan – Top Stories Issue: 7/19/05
Computer programmer touts commercial space tourism
By Daniel Carter


If, while passing over the 360 Bridge, a driver looks west over the water, he may see a small lighthouse on the shore.

Farther inland and out of sight is a brightly painted group of structures where, on the 4th of July, Richard Garriott, dressed as the Mayor of the Munchkin village, greeted guests to his party. The Tin Man and the Cowardly Lion were there, along with the Wizard himself. The guests wore overalls and work clothes; they thought they were going to a barn-raising.

North of the Munchkin village sits the foundation of Garriott’s unfinished mansion. Guests had arrived expecting to work on this house, which someday will contain secret passages, bedrooms whose walls rotate so sleepers wake in different rooms from where they fell asleep, a three-story dining room (the center of which is a platform that can be raised and lowered), an observatory, and a master bedroom with a lift to raise the bed closer to the glass ceiling and the stars. On the 4th of July, guests were taken to an enclosed room, a simulated thunderstorm struck and everyone rushed into a “storm cellar” – the backs of moving trucks, which took guests to the Munchkin village for the real party.

When he’s not working, Garriott throws famous parties. And he tries to get to space.

He programmed his first computer game, Akalabeth, in 1979 after graduating from high school. Its sales earned him more than $150,000. While studying at UT-Austin, he made Ultima I and II, medieval fantasy games that featured Garriott himself as Lord British, ruler of the fictional Brittania. They earned him enough money to drop out of college and start his own company, Origin Systems Inc. Garriott appeared on billboards and at conventions in a Prince Charming-esque costume and became a well-known force in the gaming industry.

Before it was disbanded in 2004, Origin was one of the most influential developers of computer games, starting the massive multiplayer trend in 1997 with Ultima Online. Now Garriott spends his time in Austin developing games for his new company, NCsoft, and keeping up with promising new rockets and shuttles.

He went to NASA and asked if they would be willing to fly him into space. NASA said no.

He also went to the Russian space program and proposed the same idea. They also refused.

“[The Russians] said, ‘Forget it, because we don’t even know what it would entail.’ They said to even figure out what it would take to fly a civilian would cost us a bunch of money,” Garriott said.

So Garriott asked the Russians how much it would cost to “figure it out.” He paid the sum, and the Russians told him that it would cost $20 million to go to space.

Then the economy slowed down, and Garriott was financially out of the running for a trip to space. Dennis Tito, the first space tourist, went in his place. He spent more than seven days in space and visited the International Space Station.

The barrier of space is 63 miles above the earth, where the atmosphere ends. From 52.7 miles, the sky is almost black. The curvature of the earth is visible, and the clouds are far below, lying like snow on the surface of a sphere. Garriott has been that far above the earth’s surface, but he hasn’t been to space. He lacks the qualifications to become an astronaut like his father, Owen Garriott, who flew aboard Spacelab in 1973 and 1983.

“I quickly realized that the probability of me ever becoming an astronaut was zero,” Garriott said.

While Garriott lacked the skills necessary to become part of a governmental space program, he did have an abundance of money, so he began working to privatize space flight.

“It needs to be commercialized, and that way people can buy a seat; therefore, I can buy a seat,” Garriott said.

His method of encouraging the almost nonexistent industry of space tourism was to fund and become involved in a company he hoped would one day take him to space. Garriott is the vice president and plurality shareholder of Space Adventures Ltd.; while he does not own a majority of the shares, he does own more than anyone else. The Virginia-based company takes tourists to the bottom of the ocean and to the edge of space. It is also the only company to have contracted a successful space trip with the Russians.

Space Adventures Ltd. couldn’t fly anyone into space without a craft. So Garriott also contributed to a venture called the X Prize. Started by the CEO of the Zero Gravity Corporation and now known as the Ansari X Prize, the award provides $10 million to the first private, manned flight to a height of 63 miles that can be repeated within two weeks. It was hoped that a future X Prize winner would provide Space Adventures Ltd. with a safe, affordable spacecraft.

Sir Richard Branson, CEO of the Virgin Group (Virgin Records, Virgin Express, Virgin Mobile) also had an interest in private spaceflight. Branson registered the Virgin Galactic trademark in the mid-1990s, planning to incorporate the company once the technology was created to make private spaceflight realistic. While he waited, the British entrepreneur attempted to fly a hot air balloon around the world. He failed but set a new world record in the process, and he succeeded in breaking the record for a nonstop airplane flight around the world, completing the trip in just over 67 hours. He also started a now-defunct lingerie company, Virginware.

In September of 2004, Branson felt it was time to incorporate Virgin Galactic. Experimental aircraft designer Burt Rutan was about to win the X Prize, and just days before the successful second flight of his SpaceShipOne, Rutan signed an agreement with Branson and Virgin Galactic to license the technology used in his craft.

Rutan is building five craft similar to SpaceShipOne for Virgin Galactic. The company has already signed up 100 people willing to pay the estimated price of $200,000 for a few minutes in space, and another 29,000 have said they would put down a $20,000 deposit.

Space tourism could become a highly profitable industry. Rutan told a U.S. House science committee in April that, “By the 12th year of operations, 50,000 to 100,000 [spacetravellers] will have enjoyed that black-sky view.” With a market so large for a $100,000-$200,000 product, it is no surprise that many new companies are entering the industry that Garriott has supported for years. But while these companies are looking to market capacity and profit predictions, Garriott, whose investment in Space Adventures Ltd. could bring serious financial gain, is still focused on space. He’s confident that within five years he will get there. The question now is, can he go sooner?

“Space Adventures has another brand in the fire,” Garriott said. “Which is, a lot of these competitors for the X Prize are not stopping. Their goal is not just to win the X Prize; their goal is to become part of commercial space flight, and so a lot of them are still pursuing completing their craft.”

Garriott hopes a team will complete a craft before Rutan finishes his modifications to SpaceShipOne’s design – especially if he or Space Adventures Ltd. can give the team financial support.

“Burt and I will be fortunate enough to fulfil our dreams – and to experience all this personally on the inaugural flight of Virgin Galactic’s VSS Enterprise in three years’ time,” Branson said in a 2004 speech to the Royal Aeronautical Society.

Sometime in 2007, Branson and Rutan will climb aboard a modified version of SpaceShipOne, slightly larger and designed to carry more passengers than its predecessor. The craft will be flown to a height of around nine miles by another plane. It then will be dropped, its rocket will engage, and Branson and Rutan will fly almost vertically into space. They will hang for several minutes and then fall to Earth where, unless another company can procure a craft sooner, Garriott will be waiting for his own ride.

www.dailytexanonline.com

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