Latest space tourist gets his money's worth

Image: Richard Garriott and the International Space Station crew members wave after crew news conference
Spaceflight participant Richard Garriott gestures as space statoin crew members (back row, L-R) Gregory Chamitoff, Sergei Volkov, and Oleg Kononenko and (middle row, L-R) Mike Fincke and Yury Lonchakov wave after a crew news conference October 20, 2008. NASA TV via Reuters
/ Source: The Associated Press

The world's latest space tourist, a computer game wizard and astronaut's son who paid $30 million to fly to the space station, said Monday from orbit that he's gotten his money's worth.

With his 12-day adventure winding down this week, Richard Garriott said he felt fulfilled even before he rocketed away on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft on Oct. 12, thanks to all the training he got with astronauts and other space professionals.

"Of course, it's been great icing on the cake to actually take the rocket ride, which was very exciting, and, of course, the view from up here is spectacular," he told reporters in a news conference.

Garriott said it's been especially gratifying speaking from space with his father, retired astronaut Owen Garriott, 77, who flew on NASA's first space station, Skylab, in 1973. The younger Garriott is the first American to follow a parent into space.

The two have chatted several times each day by radio hookup arranged by Russian Mission Control outside Moscow. Their next conversation will be face-to-face at the Soyuz landing site in Kazakhstan on Friday.

"That's been a real joy, not just talking to him here from space, but this whole year we've actually spent working together for this flight," said the 47-year-old Garriott. "It's been a great opportunity for us to bond, so to speak, as adults in ways that we haven't had a chance to do in many years."

Garriott, who lives in Austin, Texas, and goes by the gaming moniker "Lord British," is the creator of the Ultima computer game series. His most recent business with brother Robert, Destination Games, merged with a South Korean gaming giant, NCsoft. Garriott is an executive producer of the American branch, NCsoft Austin.

Back at NASA's Florida launching site, meanwhile, attention was focused Monday on a mission that has been delayed. Space shuttle Atlantis was hauled off the launch pad and sent back to the hangar to wait until at least February for a trip to the Hubble Space Telescope.

Atlantis was originally scheduled to blast off this month on a mission to make various repairs and upgrade the telescope. But the Hubble broke down three weeks ago and stopped sending pictures, forcing NASA to figure out what went wrong and delay its mission until next year.

Now astronauts will need time to train for a new telescope repair they hadn't planned on.

Shuttle Endeavour, now at the front of the flight lineup, will be moved from its launch pad to Atlantis' spot this weekend. Endeavour had been poised to blast off as a rescue ship for Atlantis' crew if there was an emergency during the Hubble mission. Instead, Endeavour will carry seven astronauts to the space station on an equipment delivery mission; launch is targeted for Nov. 14.

That trip will enable NASA to double the number of astronauts living at the orbiting outpost, from three to six. That transition should occur next spring.

Space station astronaut Gregory Chamitoff said Monday it feels "very productive" to have double the number on board. He'd been living with two Russian cosmonauts since the beginning of June and welcomed the arrival of three new faces one week ago. Later this week, those two cosmonauts and Garriott will return to Earth and leave Chamitoff, fellow NASA astronaut Michael Fincke and Russian Yuri Lonchakov behind in orbit.

"We've gone for 4 1/2 months, the three of us, and it's very exciting to have a full complement up here," said Chamitoff, who will come home aboard Endeavour.

The 18-year-old Hubble, meanwhile, has been unable to send back pictures of the cosmos since Sept. 27. Flight controllers tried unsuccessfully to get a backup system working last week, and may make another attempt later this week.

When they do fly, the Hubble repair crew members will take up a replacement part for the disabled system.