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Space millionaire says the trip is worth it

A businessman-scientist who bought his own ticket to the international space station says from orbit that the trip is worth the millions of dollars he paid.
US scientist and businessman Gregory Olsen talks during news conference from Unity module of ISS
Businessman-scientist Gregory Olsen speaks into a microphone during a news conference from orbit Tuesday. Surrounding him, going clockwise from lower left, are Russia's Sergei Krikalev and Valery Tokarev, and NASA's Bill McArthur and John Phillips.Nasa Tv / Reuters
/ Source: staff and news service reports

A businessman-scientist who bought his own ticket to the international space station said from orbit Tuesday that the trip was worth the millions of dollars he paid.

“I’m having a great time. I mean, this is a dream come true,” Gregory Olsen said at a news conference broadcast from the space station.

“This is my fourth day and I’m really enjoying it,” he added. “Just to look out and see the Earth from about 230 miles up is just great.”

The best part, Olsen said, is “just being here.” As for the reported $20 million he paid for the 10-day trip, “It’s like the price and value argument. This is something I wanted to do, I love doing, so to me, yes, it’s worth the money.”

With his launch aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket on Saturday from Kazakhstan, Olsen became the world’s third paying space passenger. He made his fortune with Sensors Unlimited Inc. of Princeton, N.J., a company that makes devices for fiber-optic communications and infrared imaging. He is chairman of the board of directors and a co-founder.

Olsen said he was not afraid during liftoff.

In fact, “as soon as that rocket launched, I was the most relaxed I’ve been in two years. I’ve had some ups and downs on this thing,” the 60-year-old said, referring to his lengthy delay in flying for medical reasons.

“The only thing I was nervous about was maybe I wasn’t going to go. And once I felt that rocket push off from the ground, I just felt that sense of relief and joy. The Russian Space Agency has a great safety record and they’re great at space, and with a crew like this, how could you go wrong?”

He said he has not suffered any of the typical space motion sickness. “The most curious thing is the weightlessness, just floating in air,” he said.

FAQ in space
Later, during a Webcast conducted with Russian assistance, Olsen said he was “just floating in space, enjoying the ride.”

“Space is a great place,” he told viewers. “I mean, it's nice and roomy here. In some ways it's like camping out, because we have no running water, no sink, and we kind of have to fend for ourselves for food.” (Listen to the audio.)

He also answered some of the frequently asked questions about living in space:

  • “Sleeping isn't like sleeping on earth, because you can sleep anywhere. You can sleep on your side, you can sleep on the wall. It really doesn't matter.”
  • “The other question is, how do you eat in space? And the answer is, kind of like you do on Earth, only in smaller pieces.”

Olsen recognized a litany of groups during the Webcast, ranging from Fairleigh Dickinson University and the University of Virginia, where he earned his degrees in physics and material science, to his South African winery and two New Jersey golf courses.

The connection was at times spotty during Tuesday's Webcast, with very little video coming through. Two more 12-minute sessions are scheduled, on Thursday and Friday. (This PDF file provides the schedule.)

Crew waiting for return to Earth
Olsen arrived at the space station Monday with NASA astronaut William McArthur and Russian cosmonaut Valery Tokarev, who will spend the next six months aboard the orbiting complex. The millionaire scientist will return to Earth early next week with astronaut John Phillips and cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev, who have been in orbit since April.

Phillips said he can’t wait to devour “a hot steaming pizza and a big cold mug of beer,” once he’s back on Earth. Krikalev said a good cup of coffee, and fresh fruit and vegetables, sound good to him.

California money manager Dennis Tito visited the space station in 2001 and South African Internet entrepreneur Mark Shuttleworth in 2002, in similar deals negotiated with Russian space officials through the auspices of Virginia-based Space Adventures.

This report includes information from The Associated Press and