Government space agencies like NASA, Roscosmos and others need to give private entrepreneurs broader access to the orbiting station and encourage private space travel, the latest U.S. space tourist said Monday.
Three days after returning to Earth following 12-day journey into space, Richard Garriott, the first American to follow his father into space, described his time aboard Russian-built Soyuz capsules and the orbiting station and promised to publish results of his scientific observations from the trip.
Among the work he did was comparing photographs taken 35 years ago by his father, Owen, when he was aboard the U.S. space station Skylab and looking for changes in the Earth's environment since then.
Garriott lavished praise on the Russian space program, likening the Oct. 12 launch of the Soyuz TMA-13 from the Russian-leased Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to a ballet — "strong and confident but elegant."
"And the weightlessness and the view from space was unforgettable," he said.
Garriott, a computer game designer, is the sixth space tourist to have flown to the international space station. He is also a board member and investor in Space Adventures, the U.S company that has organized all the space tourist flights and is a pioneer in efforts to break government monopoly on space travel.
The movement has gained momentum in recent years, with several companies investing millions of dollars and competing to offer trips into space mainly to well-heeled clientele.
It has also gained new attention with the U.S. decision to ground its space shuttle fleet beginning in 2010. That will leave Russian spacecraft the only way to get people and cargo to the orbiting station — a prospect that has raised concern among some U.S. officials and politicians, including both presidential candidates.
NASA is now studying whether the shuttle program could continue operating past its scheduled retirement in 2010.
Top Russian space officials have in the past expressed doubt that they could continue to offer seats to tourists, citing increased demand for trips to the space station.
But Garriott said the Russia's space agency, Roscosmos, should take advantage of that situation by expanding its human flight programs.
"I hope that NASA, Roscosmos and other partners find a way to encourage entrepreneurs such as myself and other companies and other countries to take advantage of this amazing resource we now have in space," he said, referring to the space station.
"I do think that current policy is not set up well to encourage that kind of entrepreneurship," he said.
Garriott was joined in his return to Earth by cosmonauts Oleg Kononenko and Sergei Volkov, himself the son of veteran cosmonaut Alexander Volkov.