What do you say about a person who helped pioneer MMO gaming (Ultima Online), has recently created an exciting MMO game (Tabula Rasa), built a haunted house capable of terrifying even stoic adults (Britannia Manor), and is scheduled to make his first space flight in October, joining the team on the International Space Station? By anyone's standards, Richard Garriott lives large.
As the executive producer for the video game company NCsoft, he has added to his legacy in the gaming realm with the recent release of Tabula Rasa, which takes online players on an intergalactic journey of epic proportions. A certain number of these gamers, selected through a drawing, will partake of the space station voyage -- or at least a digital copy of their DNA will.
As part of Operation Immortality, the DNA sequences of a certain number of eternity-minded individuals will travel on a storage device to the space station. Who knows? If something tragic happens to the Earth over the next few years, these hand-selected souls may be reconstructed from their stored DNA information by some benevolent race of aliens passing by.
Richard clearly enjoys capturing the imagination and entertaining those around him. His early interest in magic is one indication. Another is one of his pet projects, Britannia Manor, outside of Austin, Texas. How many people on the planet get to build a personalized haunted house?
My earliest career inclination (at the age of ten) was to become a designer of amusement park fun houses. This was after a visit to the walkthrough Palace Fun House at Asbury Park (yes, the same Asbury Park immortalized by Bruce Springsteen on his first album). Richard's similar ambitions to delight and terrify people were fully realized, largely aided by millions of sales of the Ultima video game series, an accomplishment that catapulted him to millionaire status.
The substantial profits from his entrepreneurial ventures also contributed to the purchase of the roundtrip ticket, obtained through Space Adventures, to the International Space Station, tagged at $30 million. Corporate sponsorships and commercial ventures will help offset the costs.
No ordinary haunted house, the original Britannia Manor (which doubled as Richard's residence) sported hazards you might have to swim through, puzzles to open closed doors, secret hallways, costumed creatures offering talismans and clues to guide your journey, and an atmosphere so incredibly creepy that some adults called it the most frightening experience of their lives.
The entire event, in fact, was not that different from navigating the levels of a video game, except the costumed characters were real (as were the fire, water, and vexing challenges). Though the original Britannia Manor ceased operation when the high-tech boom went bust (1994), Britannia Manor MK III, recently constructed, offers new twists and thrills, including an observatory, underground passages, swiveling walls in the guest rooms that move beds between rooms at night, and locks that grip your arm when you try to open them. This man knows how to have fun.
Richard, the son of Skylab astronaut Owen Garriott, will be fulfilling a lifelong dream when he voyages aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket to the International Space Station. During the ten days living in low earth orbit (at an altitude of approximately 217 miles, completing 15.77 orbits a day), he will conduct experiments, including growing protein crystals which form perfectly under zero-gravity conditions.
With coaching from his father and extensive astronaut training in both Houston and Russia, the realities of the upcoming voyage are converging into sharp focus. Richard has been blogging on his experiences. The completion of his personalized space suit, from a June 27, 2008 blog entry, was something of a rite of passage.
"Big news to start my second week of June training came in the shape of a freshly tailored Sokol spacesuit," Richard wrote. "This is quite a departure from the heavily-used models with which we've been training until now, not least because it fits, is bright white...and has my name on it!"
"While at Energia HQ (the contractor responsible for making the spacesuits)," Richard continued, "I chatted with Oleg Fedorovich, who has made every Sokol suit since the beginning. Mine is Sokol #169. And I can officially attest to the quality of his workmanship, not least because they made me sit in the suit in my own seat liner for two hours...that is a long time to sit perfectly still, especially with spots here and there under pressure from the folds of an inflated spacesuit."
"However, if you're wearing one of these in an emergency, everything has to fit perfectly, so I consider those two hours time well spent to ensure pressure spots are as few as possible. While at Energia, I also tried on all my custom underlayers, including the flight suit, Farel survival suit, life preservers, and even the pair of girdle-like shorts and leggings that help keep blood in the upper half of your body post-flight."