Monday, February 11, 2008

Richard, the Space Tourist

Some over-achievers have all the luck. Consider, for example, the case of Richard Garriott. At a time when most people his age are entering mid-life crises, he’s getting ready for the adventure of his life. And I am extremely jealous.

Growing up, Richard had a dad with the coolest of jobs. His father is Owen Garriott, astronaut. How cool is that? Owen has the distinction of not only being one of the few that worked on the short-lived Skylab mission in the 70s, but who also got to fly on one of the very first Shuttle missions in the 80s. He was there while nasa made the transition from the heydays of Apollo to the truck-and-bus missions of the Shuttle.

As for Richard, he became one of the first truly pioneering and successful PC game programmers. While in high school and college, he made a name for himself writing computer games and giving them away to friends. He soon parlayed that into a business, paying for his college education with the games he sold.

He wrote the first in what was to become a blockbuster series of “Ultima” games. One after another, Ultima sequels were churned out with Richard writing or producing every one of them. Sell a few million copies; make a few million dollars.

The son of the astronaut had become a computer entrepreneur. And in his early 40s, he had more money than he new what to do with. And all the time to spend it.

What’s a fella to do? Follow his dad’s footsteps into space! Lucky guy.

Just about the time he amassed his fortune, NASA and the Soviet space agency started working with private companies to create something that Arthur C. Clarke had dreamed about for decades: space tourism. For a cool thirty million dollars, you can be on top of the world as they light a candle under you and catapult you to a week’s visit on the International Space Station. How could Richard refuse such an opportunity?

Already five men have had their turn. Richard gets his chance in October, 2008. Of course, it’s not all fun-and-games. While on the space station, he will perform vital research into the commercial applications of the effects of weightless on extremophile bacteria. Pretty heady stuff.

Along the way, he has also made a name for himself as an accomplished magician, having appeared on the cover of MUM, the magazine of the Society of American Magicians. And he has served as the corner man for boxer Jesus Chavez. In his spare time, he built a haunted house museum at his home in Austin, Texas.

My mid-life crisis is coming along just fine; thanks for asking. I can look back on my life — I’m about the same age as Richard — and think about what I would could have done differently. My dad wasn’t an astronaut. Every computer game that I’ve written has been a commercial flop. People laugh at my magic tricks. And nobody reads my blog.

But Richard is still an inspiration to me. As soon as I make my first thirty million dollars, I’ll start my weightlessness training in preparation for my trip to the moon. Gee, I better start saving my pennies right now.

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