Gamers in Space

Millionaire video game designer and astronaut progeny Richard Garriott becomes the first second-generation space traveler

Bow, nerds, and greet your king. Before this week, Richard Garriott was already geek royalty. The son of an astronaut, Garriott grew up in a NASA village, started writing best-selling videogames in high school, and has voyaged to the bottom of the ocean. Now Garriott has achieved the crown jewel of nerdom: he’s in space.

Three days ago Garriott blasted off from a launch pad in Kazakstan, and yesterday he arrived at the International Space Station (ISS), where he will spend the next nine days conducting experiments. This trip makes Garriott the first second-generation astronaut in history.

“Everyone goes through some period in their life where they dream of going into space, but most people grow out of it,” said Garriott, “in my case, because my father was astronaut, with both my left and right hand neighbors being astronauts, it really felt natural. I grew up thinking that we would all go into space.”

For Garriott, poor eyesight kept that dream impossibility until the recent boom in space tourism. A millionaire after his hit video game series Ultima, Garriott linked up last year with the private space tourism company Space Adventures and began planning his trip, spending months training at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Russia and readying his experiments.

Aboard the ISS, Garriott will conduct a range of research, including an analysis of how proteins crystallize in zero gravity (in zero gravity the protein crystals more closely resemble their ideal structure, meaning some drugs could be more effective if manufactured in space); a study of the effects of weightlessness on eyes that have undergone LASEK surgery; and a mapping of Earth’s surface from space—a similar exploration to the one Owen Garriott conducted as a NASA astronaut.

“I hope that I will have demonstrated that private citizens who fly into space can contribute to the crew in more valuable way then just as a tourist,” said Garriott.

PopSci.com will run a longer profile of Richard Garriott after he returns from space. And stay tuned for more news about the current ISS mission.