This morning, the Russian spacecraft Soyuz successfully docked with the International Space Station, and space tourist Richard Garriott was welcomed as part of the 18th space station crew. Garriott, who reportedly paid $30 million for a 10-day stay at the outpost, is the son of a former NASA astronaut and longed to follow in his father’s footsteps, but was prevented from training as an astronaut because of his poor eyesight. After making his fortune as a video game designer he brokered passage to orbit through the company Space Adventures, which arranges trips with Russia’s space agency.
Garriott’s father, Owen, applauded as he watched the docking from Russian Mission Control outside Moscow. “I’m pleased everything is going smoothly. It’s looking great and they are starting off on a fascinating new adventure…. There was not a lot of nervousness today or during the launch. We were confident it would go well,” he said [AP]. At the space station Garriott met Russian cosmonaut Yuri Volkov, who was the first man to follow his father into space.
During his time in orbit, Garriott will keep busy with projects including privately financed experiments for drug manufacturing companies. The research fosters the growth of protein molecules in weightlessness for use in the design of new medications. He will serve as a test subject in a half-dozen NASA and European Space Agency experiments that study the affects of spaceflight on vision, sleep, balance, skeletal strength and the body’s immune system [Houston Chronicle]. He also plans to take photos of mountains and river valleys that his father photographed during his stint on the Skylab space station in 1973, to document how the planet has changed over 25 years.
While everything has gone smoothly for Garriott so far, he still has to worry about the return journey aboard the Soyuz capsule, which has malfunctioned on its last two flights. In April, a Soyuz capsule landed 420 km (260 miles) off course after explosive bolts failed to detonate before re-entry, sending the craft into a steep descent. Last year, a Soyuz capsule carrying Malaysia’s first astronaut also made a so-called “ballistic” landing, similarly blamed on faulty bolts. Russian space officials said they had done everything possible to avoid a so-called ballistic entry when Garriott returns to earth [Reuters].
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