U.S. space tourist set for blast-off


  • World
  • Sunday, 12 Oct 2008

MYT 2:02:12 PM

BAIKONUR, Kazakhstan (Reuters) - U.S. video game magnate Richard Garriott will blast off into space aboard a Russian spaceship on Sunday watched by his father, a NASA astronaut who went into space at the height of the Cold War.

U.S. space tourist Richard Garriott gives a thumbs-up after donning his spacesuit at Baikonur cosmodrome October 12, 2008. (REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov)

Garriott, who paid $35 million for a ride to the International Space Station, will lift off aboard the Soyuz TMA-13 spacecraft alongside U.S. astronaut Michael Fincke and Russian cosmonaut Yury Lonchakov at 0703 GMT.

Russian-born Google co-founder Sergei Brin , who has put down a $5 million deposit on a seat on a private space flight, was on hand for a send-off at the Baikonur cosmodrome attended by the trio's family and friends.

Garriott has drawn parallels between his journey, which comes at a time of diplomatic tension between Russia and the United States, with the era of his father, retired NASA astronaut Owen Garriott.

Just like then, he said, exploration was not overshadowed by politics.

"This was also true 30 years ago in my father's time with NASA that Russian cosmonauts and engineers always got along wonderfully with the U.S. representatives," he said before the blast-off. His crew members agreed.

"As far as politics in space is concerned, we know there are politics on the ground but it has not affected our crew," said Fincke.

"We are a symbol of what people can be doing working together. So we say in space there is no room for politics."

SOYUZ VEHICLE

Garriott and the ISS's outgoing team are due return to earth on Oct. 24 aboard a Soyuz re-entry vehicle -- a concern since the capsule has malfunctioned on the last two flights.

The Russian space authorities have said they have removed the glitch and the Oct. 24 flight should be safe.

Garriott, who made his fortune making video games, said he has always wanted to follow in the footsteps of his father.

"I grew up in a neighbourhood where I believed everyone was going to go to space because everyone I knew did go to space," he told Reuters.

The Soyuz has been the workhorse of crew transport to the ISS since the U.S. space shuttle Columbia broke up in 2003. Pressure to ensure safe flights will grow further after 2010 when U.S. space shuttles are set to be retired.

Anatoly Perminov, head of Russia's space agency, pointed to the very presence of U.S. astronauts on the premises of the Soviet-era Baikonur cosmodrome -- once a secret missile test facility -- as a sign that space exploration was based on cooperation and not rivalry.

"Space has no borders and earth laws do not apply here," he told reporters. "Despite a difficult situation today on earth in terms of the financial crisis and other things, you can see that space exploration has not stopped, we are developing it."

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