Space tourist-in-training Richard Garriott hopes to hold class in orbit when he reaches the international space station this fall.
Garriott, 46, is planning a series of interactive webcasts and other activities with U.S. students in conjunction with the Challenger Center for Space Science Education to spark interest in human spaceflight and science.
Hailing from Austin, Texas, Garriott is an American computer game developer and the son of retired NASA astronaut Owen Garriott. He is paying about $30 million for the chance to launch toward the ISS aboard a Russian rocket in October and will be the first second-generation U.S. spaceflier once he reaches orbit.
"I'm a big believer in education being the key to the future for all of us here on planet Earth," Garriott told Space.com in a recent interview.
"And I think in particularly in our age, the interest or devotion to space science or science in general is relatively lacking, so anything I can do to kind of help spur that on is time well spent," he said.
The "Garriott Science Challenge," a cooperative effort between the space tourist and the Arlington, Va.-based Challenger Center, a 50-center education group founded by the families of the astronauts lost during NASA's 1986 Challenger accident.
Garriott and center officials announced the joint endeavor during a Tuesday event at the Houston Museum of Natural Science's Challenger Learning Center.
‘Like father, like son’
"Like father, like son," June Scobee Rodgers, the widow of fallen Challenger commander Dick Scobee and the Challenger Center's founding chairman, said in a statement. "Dr. Owen Garriott also taught student science lessons from space on his Skylab mission, as Richard plans to do on his flight."
Garriott's father flew on the third expedition to the U.S. Skylab space station in 1973 before later flying on a NASA shuttle.
The younger Garriott will ride a Russian-built Soyuz rocket to the space station on a planned nine-day orbital flight under an agreement brokered with Russia's Federal Space Agency by the Virginia-based tourism firm Space Adventures.
His is the sixth paying visitor to the space station and plans to conduct protein crystal experiments and re-create his father's Earth observation photographs to demonstrate how the planet has changed after more than three decades.
For the Garriott Science Challenge, the space tourist is planning to discuss his spaceflight during a series of mission-related podcasts and interactive webcasts.
He is also drawing up flight experiments that can be replicated by students on Earth, such as using everyday objects to demonstrate fundamental concepts in physics. The sessions are expected to be available in digital format at the Challenger Center Web site, center officials said.
Once in space, Garriott has said he hopes to speak with students via ham radio sessions.
The effort is aimed at continuing the educational outreach begun by NASA astronaut Barbara Morgan, a former Idaho schoolteacher who flew to the space station in August 2007 during NASA's STS-118 mission, center officials said.
In 1986, Morgan served as the backup for space teacher Christa McAuliffe, who was a member of Challenger's seven-astronaut crew for its ill-fated launch.
The Challenger Center effort is the latest education-themed announcement concerning Garriott's upcoming spaceflight. Earlier this year, he launched the "Space Challenge!" in the United Kingdom, which calls on students to contemplate the nature of private spaceflight and design experiments Garriott could perform in space.
"So we've just announced the first step in my fairly broad educational agenda, which was this space challenge for students to be able to actually help propose experiments that I can perform directly in space," Garriott said in an interview.
Garriott recently returned to the United States after a six-week training session at Russia's Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City.
He is slated to launch to the space station with two professional astronauts on Oct. 12, and return to Earth with two Russian cosmonauts, including Sergei Volkov — the first second-generation cosmonaut to fly in space.
Volkov, commander of the space station's Expedition 17 mission, is scheduled to launch on April 8 with flight engineer Oleg Kononenko and Yi So-Yeon, South Korea's first astronaut.
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, RichardinSpace.com.