The video game pioneer Richard Garriott resides in a castle-like mansion outside of Austin, Texas, that would be the fantasy dwelling for any grown-up kid. But his favorite place to live is a five-bedroom fixer-upper some 250 miles up.
In 2008, Garriott parlayed his success in the videogame industry into a lifelong dream: to fly to the International Space Station.
“Literally, throughout my entire professional career, I’ve been investing in the privatization of space,” says Garriott. “Helping to unlock the gates of private space travel.”
Life back on Earth is far from boring for Lord British, as he’s known to video game fanatics the world over. Over the years, he’s amassed a spectacular array of toys, ranging from medieval weapons to a fully-functional observatory dome. Britannia Manor, Garriott’s haunted house/amusement park residence in Austin is a veritable shrine to discovery, teeming with sentimental and inventive nods to the importance of science and curiosity. In 2009, Motherboard producer Juan Carlos Pineiro-Escoriaza traveled to Garriott’s home to learn how his whimsical, yet inherently scientific, modus operandi is helping to usher in a new generation of exploration.
Not to mention, securing his seat as nerd par excellence for brandishing an impressive collection of rare and unreleased versions of The Lord of the Rings series. So jealous.
Garriott is perhaps most famous for developing the seminal videogame series, Ultima and coining the term Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game, or MMORPG, under his Lord British moniker. His success as a game developer earned him a stately fortune, with which he had long hoped to become the first private citizen to go to space.
He wasn’t the first: the burst of the dot-com bubble led Garriot to sell his spot to Dennis Tito. Garriott would become the 6th private citizen to reach space, a distinction held only by a handful of people, including engineer and first self-funded woman and Iranian citizen in space, Anousheh Ansari and entrepreneur/philanthropist/poker player, Guy Laliberté. But don’t call them space tourists: they’re “spaceflight participants,” who’ve paid millions and spent years in training (and learning Russian) in preparation for orbit.
Garriott’s salad days were spent nearby Texas’ Johnson Space Center, where his father, scientist and early Space Shuttle astronaut Owen Garriott was stationed. He grew up in a community of astronauts and rocket scientists, nurturing his belief that space would become a common destination for everyone — sooner rather than later.
With the Space Shuttle program cruising on its final supply of solid rocket fuel, gearing up for its last two scheduled flights, Garriott has become an ambassador of the next monumental relationship between mankind and the cosmos: the privatization of space.
When the Space Shuttle program does finally end in June, leaving behind an exciting, 30-year history, some of NASA’s facilities will be turned over to Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), the leading contender in an industry poised to help NASA send astronauts and materials to the ISS. Meanwhile, an important corollary to missions contracted by the government are those with more regal intentions, such as Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, which aims to offer sub-orbital spaceflights to anyone who can shell out $200,000 for a flight.
Somewhere in between this new spectrum of chartered space flight sits pioneers like Garriott, who is showing that even without NASA’s support, everyone should get excited outer space, and have a chance to get there too.