A civilian American astronaut is a step closer to becoming the latest space tourist, after the rocket he'll travel in was transported to a launch pad in Kazakhstan today ahead of its weekend blastoff.
The Soyuz TMA-13 was taken three miles by rail to the Baikonur launch area in the south-central region of the country at dawn today, the Associated Press reports. The shuttle is scheduled to take off Sunday at 3:01 A.M. ET.
On board will be Richard Garriott of Austin, Texas, a millionaire video game designer and son of astronaut Owen Garriott, who took photos of Earth aboard the U.S. orbital station Skylab in 1973. In addition to performing the role of shutterbug (he's planning to take nearly 500 shots of Earth), Garriott, 47, will serve as a guinea pig of sorts for scientists checking out how space travel affects his eyes.
Garriott couldn't follow in his father's footsteps as a NASA astronaut because of his imperfect vision — a huge letdown, he told ScientificAmerican.com's Larry Greenmeier earlier this week. Growing up with his astronaut dad and NASA scientists as neighbors, "My whole worldview at the time was that everyone went to space," he said.
But Garriott had laser surgery, shelled out $30 million for a seat on board the Soyuz, and is now on his way to becoming the first person with surgically corrected vision to fly outside Earth's atmosphere. (His company, Space Adventures Ltd., has secured extra-orbital passage for five other millionaires, according to the AP.) Stephen Colbert, anchor of Comedy Central's satirical late-night The Colbert Report will also be on board — well, part of him, anyway. Colbert's digitized DNA (we're not sure of its origins) will travel to the space station as part of Operation Immortality, a project of Garriott's intended to preserve, as Colbert likes to remind viewers, the best of humanity in space.
(Image of Richard Garriott by Rob Fahey via Wikimedia Commons)