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Last Updated: Tuesday, 4 May 2004, 10:52 GMT 11:52 UK
Q&A: Third space tourist
Gregory Olsen is a scientist and businessman from New Jersey, US.

Gregory Olsen, AP
Dr Olsen will take his own science experiments with him on the trip
He is set to become the third "space tourist" to travel to the International Space Station. He has paid $20m for the privilege of boarding a Russian Soyuz capsule on the trip of a lifetime.

He told the BBC News website what he hoped to get out of the mission and how he thought it might change him.


What preparations have you been doing at Star City?

It's going very well. I've been there three weeks - it's very intensive. I've had Russian language training; that's the biggest challenge I have right now. And then we do two hours a day physical training - which is running, weights and swimming.

And then the rest of the day consists of technical training where we do both lectures and simulations on the Soyuz and on the Russian part of the International Space Station (ISS).

What I haven't thought about yet, but is very important, is the safety and emergency training - what if?

What kinds of "what if" scenarios have they given you?

You practise getting into your space suit - sometimes you only have less than three minutes to do that; depressurisation of various chambers; what if the power goes out. Figuring out why did the power go out, is it correctable and if not, what are the options? That kind of thinking.

Even though I'm not required to use the control panel on the Soyuz vehicle, I'm still required to know the functions of everything. The emergency safety is obvious
You've been in contact with Dennis Tito and Mark Shuttleworth. What advice have they given you?

Oh, you know, a lot of detailed stuff. But they both basically said the same thing, which is that whatever you think now, it's better up there. Dennis Tito told me the best night's sleep he's ever had was on the ISS - he slept like a baby.

Mark e-mailed me last night and said there're hundreds and thousands of issues and details that come up and just to put your head down and do it.

What is the difference between what the Russian space agency have been teaching you and what they would teach a regular astronaut or cosmonaut?

Gregory Olsen, AP
The businessman will endure six months of intensive training
Well, I wouldn't pretend that I'm either an astronaut or cosmonaut, because they get trained for many years and they know much more in depth about the vehicle than I'll ever know from my limited amount of training.

And I won't be operating the Soyuz, but obviously I have to know what's going on. For instance, even though I'm not required to use the control panel on the Soyuz vehicle, I'm still required to know the functions of everything. The emergency safety is obvious.

Would you know how to pilot the capsule if you had to?

Well, I'm only three weeks into the training; I don't know how much of that will be included. But I know now as I'm studying the panel, I'm aware of what the controls are and what they do.

I guess it's hard for me to imagine the commander and flight engineer being incapacitated and I'm not. But if that's the case, I'll at least know what everything does.

Dennis Tito says he thinks about it every day and when you know you've had an experience like that you feel special about yourself. My guess is that I will appreciate life and try to do more
What has been the reaction of your family and colleagues?

Just hugely supportive. Everyone at Sensors Unlimited, they had a little party when I made the announcement. That was one of the awkward parts, I was preparing for this mission but I really couldn't announce it to anyone. It was 29 March when we made the announcement.

They came back and they had a cake and a party for me. I have two daughters who are grown up and each have kids and they said: "This is really something, just go for it dad."

Have many people questioned why you would want to do this?

People who know me understand that this is going to be a life-changing experience for me. I've had comments like: "Well I'd never want to be on a rocket, I'd rather keep my feet on the ground - good luck."

What do you hope to achieve with the experiments you're taking to the ISS?

Well the crystal growth could have commercial aspects downstream three or five years later. If it's successful it will be proof of concept. That means that we'll have to wait for the next spaceflight to figure out how we could do this commercially.

That's a long way off. But I think it would give encouragement to a lot of future experiments. I'm following along on work done by Nasa; it's their glove box I'll be using. It's something we'll partner up on and if it's successful we'll all benefit from it. All the information I acquire will be in the public domain. It's not going to be a trade secret.

What kinds of commercial applications might the crystal growth have?

Primarily for the infrared camera (my company manufactures) and other infrared cameras. By growing the crystal without gravity I believe we can make more uniform crystals where the chemical composition doesn't vary along the wafer that's created.

What are your other motivations for going on this trip?

ISS, AP
Gregory Olsen will be accompanied by two cosmonauts to the ISS
I want to see Princeton, New Jersey, which is where I live. But the thing I really want to do is share this information with others - with school groups.

That's the third part of the mission. A is the "wow" of orbit, B the science, C sharing this and that will take place during the mission and afterwards. I want to motivate as many young people as I can to go into science and maths. It worked for me and it can work for them.

Why do you think that is so important?

If you look at the numbers coming out of China, it's frightening. It's great for China and I'm all for it. But when you compare that with the US on a per capita basis, they're well ahead of us in terms of the numbers graduating. Interestingly, the Chinese who used to come to the US and study science and engineering stayed and that was a good thing.

What I think you're going to see is those folks are going to start going back and develop their own universities where they're going to excel. That's good for China and it's good for mankind, but I would just want my own country, the US, to hold its own in that.

What do you hope to gain from this experience?

Dennis Tito says he thinks about it every day and when you know you've had an experience like that you feel special about yourself. My guess is that I will appreciate life and try to do more.

I'm 59 years old and I feel like I'm 30. I hope people see that at 59 it's not about going into retirement and ending your life, it's about beginning your life.




SEE ALSO:
Russians dock with space station
21 Apr 04 |  Science/Nature
Astronauts may get time extension
11 Apr 04 |  Science/Nature
Cargo ship reaches space station
31 Jan 04 |  Science/Nature
Adventures in space
30 Jul 02 |  Hardtalk
Space tourist hopes to blaze trail
08 May 01 |  Science/Nature


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