Saturday, October 1, 2011

Read the story, watch the video: FMS #10 - Owen & Richard Garriott

This month's episode of my web documentary series "Five Minutes in Space" details the experiences of Owen and Richard Garriott, a father and son who share the distinction of having each flown in space. The widely divergent paths they followed into the heavens epitomize the nature of space exploration in their respective eras, and the way in which the stars aligned for them to each make their way forward is truly thought-provoking.

Here's the text; the video is available at my YouTube channel,

Five Minutes in Space: Episode 10 (10/01/11) - Owen & Richard Garriott

by Patrick J. Walsh

Launched on a journey across time and space, tethered to the glories of the past by a link as strong as a family bond, and advancing a generation’s perspective on the possibilities of space travel, Richard Garriott left the Earth in Soyuz TMA-13 on October 12, 2008, to fly to the International Space Station.

Three and a half decades earlier, his father Owen Garriott -- a scientist astronaut assigned to NASA’s Skylab program -- made the same trip into the heavens, his adventure shaped so differently by the circumstances of that long ago time, so different in so many details from the world as it is today.

Emblematic of his generation, Richard Garriott drew upon his interests and skills from a young age to grow a brilliantly successful career as a video game designer, programmer and developer. It was his success as an entrepreneur that ultimately enabled him to purchase the right to fly in space, as a tourist in the earliest days of this new era of commercial spaceflight.

For his father Owen, the way into space was no less the result of brilliance, and no less subject to the restless sprawl of history.

Augmenting the skills he gained while earning his doctorate in engineering, Owen Garriott was trained as a jet pilot by the U.S. Air Force and served as an electronics officer in the U.S. Navy -- all of which led to his being chosen by NASA for training as a scientist astronaut.

Some measure of the breadth of the journey on which each of the Garriotts, father and son, embarked, can perhaps be best measured by a brief consideration of the world into which each was born -- Owen in 1930, Richard in 1961.

The dream of flying in space, let alone living at an orbital outpost like Skylab for two months, as Owen Garriott did in the summer of 1973, was still very much a dream at the start of the 1930s. And flying into space in a rocket ship shaped liked a plane, which would then return to Earth like a commuter shuttle flight on a short hop from city to city, was mere science fiction in 1930 -- even though it would be entirely real by November of 1983, when Owen Garriott launched aboard his second space mission, STS-9, on the space shuttle Columbia.

Similarly, when Richard Garriott began his life’s journey, on July 4, 1961, there had been only two human beings launched into space, and their flights were the essential expression of a world conflict, writ large in a titanic struggle of ideology and technocratic competition. At that moment, the thought of an individual citizen flying in space by virtue of his or her purchasing a ticket -- even at the highest price conceivable at the time -- was as remote as the idea of a gifted computerist building his fame and fortune by creating something known as a “computer game” -- let alone the sort of art and invention that are at the heart of the immersive, intense experience afforded by the best modern gaming titles.

In the course of brief decades, the world would change. The brilliant scientist elder Garriott would serve at Skylab when he was just 43 years old; his son, the wunderkind computer programmer and new age businessman, would find his way to the ISS at 47.

Launched on a journey across time and space, on a trip so few before them had known, Owen and Richard Garriott each pointed the way toward a day when those who wish it will find new opportunities to forge memories of their own five minutes in space.

© 2011 Patrick J. Walsh