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Space tourist seeks student experiment

Image: Richard Garriott
American computer game developer Richard Garriott floats in weightlessness inside a Russian Sokol spacesuit during an airplane ride to celebrate the upcoming release of his new game “Tabula Rasa.” /Space Ad
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Space tourist-to-be Richard Garriott is calling on the ingenuity of British students to come up with a science experiment for his upcoming flight to the international space station.

Garriott, an American computer game developer, is currently in Russia training to fly aboard the Russian Soyuz rocket that will ferry him and two professional astronauts to the space station in October. But Garriott is also working to make the $30 million flight more than a mere orbital joyride and is searching for experiment candidates from United Kingdom students to add to his own science mission as part of his "Space Challenge!"

"I am dedicating my spaceflight to science and enterprise," Garriott said in a statement, who plans to perform Earth observation and protein growth experiments during his flight. "We need more than great ideas — we need to make them happen."

Garriott is challenging primary school students in the UK between ages 7 and 10 to design an experiment that he could perform during his stay aboard the space station. His father, former NASA astronaut Owen Garriott, is serving as the spaceflight's chief scientist and will review the submitted experiments alongside British scientists Samantha Wynne, of Cambridge University, and the Queen Mary, University of London's Peter McCowan.

A second challenge, for secondary school students ages 11-19, invites them to envision how private enterprise may evolve for space tourism companies like the Virginia-based firm Space Adventures that brokered the younger Garriott's upcoming trek to the space station with Russia's Federal Space Agency.

The deadline to enter both challenges, which are part of the "UK Civil Space Strategy 2008-2012 and Beyond" effort, is June 20. Winners will be announced on Sept. 28 by NASA astronaut Piers Sellers, a British scientist-turned-astronaut, at the International Astronautical Congress in Glasgow.

The British National Space Centre and the Virginia-based tourism firm Space Adventures are also working on the contest.

"We're delighted by this opportunity for UK students to experience the excitement of real science from the curriculum, and to see their experiments carried out by Richard Garriott on his flight to the International Space Station later this year," said Jeremy Curtis, of the BNSC UK Space Strategy Group, in a statement.

The Austin, Texas-based Garriott, 46, will become the sixth space tourist — and first American second-generation astronaut — to visit the sapce station when he launches in October with two members of the station's Expedition 18 crew. He is the creator of the Ultima computer game series and has said he was contemplating paying an extra $15 million to add a spacewalk to his orbital flight.

Garriott has spent the last several weeks at Russia's Star City-based cosmonaut training center to learn Russian and familiarize himself with the Soyuz spacecraft. He will return to Earth with the outgoing Expedition 17 crew, which is coincidentally commanded by Sergei Volkov — Russia's first second-generation cosmonaut to fly — at the end of his spaceflight.

Click here to learn more about the "Space Challenge! Extreme Science and Enterprise" contest on Garriott's mission blog.

Richard Garriott is chronicling his spaceflight training and mission at his personal Web site: