Did the first paying guests aboard the international space station get their $20 million worth?
- By Craig Mellow
- Air & Space magazine, November 2006
(Page 2 of 8)
Shuttleworth, a South African now based in London, was under 30 when he flew—a bachelor who brought his parents to share the preflight week at Russia’s venerable Baikonur launch site in Kazakhstan. Olsen, who lives in Princeton, New Jersey, is a quarter-century older, a divorced father of two grown daughters.
Olsen, who has a down-to-earth personality, recalls that his “Eureka!” moment—deciding to go on a spaceflight—came over his regular morning coffee at Starbucks, reading about Shuttleworth’s mission in the New York Times.
Olsen still compares himself negatively to his space-faring crewmates, especially “renaissance intellectual” Krikalev. “The only thing I’ve figured out how to do is make money,” he says by way of comparison.
The 33-year-old Shuttleworth has a more remote demeanor, yet comes off as being suffused with romantic enthusiasm. “By 1999, I was in a position where I could do anything, so I asked myself: What is the one thing you want to do before you die?” he recalls during a conversation at a Novotel hotel in London’s Docklands. “The answer that came back immediately was to go into space, taking a step down an inevitable path that we as a species have to follow.”
He brought a business team to Moscow with him to negotiate each detail of his mission, sometimes dealing across the table from 15 Russian agencies and institutes. Shuttleworth pushed for his own experiments, which he chose from a competition among South African universities.
Olsen also became involved with experiments. When the U.S. military banned him from taking one of his own company’s infrared cameras to space for experiments, he gamely agreed to serve as a human guinea pig for a European Space Agency study, making various abrupt movements while in orbit to see which ones would induce him to vomit. Fortunately, he turned out to be among the (completely unpredictable) 50 percent of travelers who prove resistant to space nausea.
The two tourists also pursued more personal interests. Olsen took lessons from Krikalev on how to photograph his neighborhood in Princeton from space. Shuttleworth arranged to receive a daily bulletin from NASA detailing erupting volcanoes and other extreme geological phenomena he could see from orbit, so that he could knock off work and watch them.
The Generation X-er and the laid-back baby boomer agree on the fundamentals: that their sojourn in outer space was, in the end, worth the money and tribulation. The pair also agree that the trip would not have been worth it just to act the millionaire, paying for a week of thrills. Much, if not most, of the lasting satisfaction for these two high achievers came from meeting the challenges of learning the Soyuz and ISS and living among the global astronaut/cosmonaut elite; training with space masters for four hours a day and winning their respect. “The high point for me was just completing the task,” Olsen recalls. “After I landed, the first thought that came to me was, ‘Thank God I didn’t screw up.’ ”