With his pierced ears, ponytail and cowboy boots, Richard Garriott seems to be the unlikeliest of astronauts.
But cowboy boots or not, Garriott will launch this October on a Russian Soyuz rocket to spend 10 days at the International Space Station as a tourist. His ticket to ride cost $30 million and he thinks it's worth every penny, though he admits it cost him just about his entire fortune.
Space is in Garriott's blood. He is a second-generation space traveler. His father, Owen Garriott, flew on Skylab and on the ninth space shuttle mission.
Gamers around the world know Garriott as Lord British from Ultima.
Garriott produced his first game, Alkabeth, when he was barely out of high school, and it paid for his college education. He made a fortune with subsequent games and became an adventurer, traveling to Antarctica, tracking mountain gorillas in Rwanda, and canoeing down the Amazon River; now he is off to low Earth orbit.
Expedition 18 Commander Mike Finke is excited about going into space with Garriott.
"He is famous in his own right and he is the first of the second generation of American space fliers," Finke said. "Now it's Richard's turn and he is taking a unique way of getting into space, perhaps the way most of us will go in the future."
Garriott believes anyone who wants to go to space should get the chance and that some day soon the cost will drop. He is one of the investors in Space Adventures, a company that has a deal with the Russian space agency to send rich tourists to space.
"I have always invested in privatization of space; I think Space Adventures is one way to unlock the gates of private space travel," Garriott said.
This trip will be the ultimate fantasy for a guy who specializes in creating fantasy worlds. "Most have been in medieval fantasy but my most recent one, Tabula Rasa, is actually a science fiction game involving humanity's spread throughout the galaxy. In my game, it was by necessity because of a calamity that befalls Earth."
What is he bringing with him to the space station? One very special item. "I will be taking up an immortality drive, which is a repository of the wisdom and knowledge of mankind."
What kind of information is on the immortality drive? Books, art, philosophy, poetry and music. Anyone who wants to contribute their wit and wisdom to the immortality drive, he says, can do so at www.operationimmortality.com
Gamers will also get a chance to talk to Garriott while he is in space.
"Since I am getting a chance to go to space myself I would be remiss without finding a way to connect to the community of players as well as gamers' space, I will be sending messages down to players in my game."
His fans wanted to know one thing: Will he be playing his latest game Tabula Rasa on orbit? Garriott assures followers that, "in fact, I will be looking for signs of the Bane presence in our planetary system. You know that we anticipate they may visit the Earth very soon, based upon the advanced technology we have already uncovered on Earth, that we are keeping a secret from the masses."
When Garriott's father, Owen, flew on the space shuttle, he brought up the first ham radio to be used in space to talk to his sons on Earth. Now his son will be using a ham radio to talk to his father from the space station.
His mission launches October 12 and returns later that month. Garriott says he can hardly wait to see what games are inspired by his trip to space.