Tag: Richard Garriott

Spaceman and Game Designer Richard Garriott promotes private space travel at SXSW

Special Contributor to Silicon Hills News

Richard Garriott, game designer, spaceman, CEO of Portalarium

It cost Richard Garriott “tens of millions” of dollars to travel to outer space in the Russian Soyuz spacecraft in 2008. Now his goal is to make it commercially feasible for people to travel for “ones of millions.” And he’s not alone. Garriott, an internationally known game designer who presented at SXSW Saturday, listed several companies investing in technologies to make traveling, doing business and living in space possible for the rest of us.
Garriott is co-vice chairman of Space Adventures which sent him and half a dozen other space tourists up in a Russian craft—NASA will not permit commercial space flights. There’s also the X Prize Foundation which holds multimillion dollar competitions for various aspects of private space research and exploration; SpaceX which develops launch vehicles and spacecraft for NASA with an eye to commercial space travel; Sierra Nevada Corp.’s Dream Catcher spacecraft can carry up to seven crew and cargo to the International Space Station and Bigelow Aerospace is developing space complexes for future space travelers.
Garriott himself, who has tracked mountain gorillas in Rwanda, floated down the Amazon, slept in a tent in the interior of the Antarctic, and been at the bottom of the Atlantic to see the Titanic, has on his bucket list “space diving”–the extra terrestrial version of sky diving–and living on Mars. He bought lunar landers that were left behind, making him the only private holder of real estate on the moon.
In his presentation, he explained how a program like XPrize, offering a billion dollar prizes to organizations that can create infrastructures needed to make Mars habitable, would spread the colonization investment over several different companies and make it financially feasible for humans to become an interplanetary species.
Garriott’s father, Owen Garriott, was an astronaut, as were the neighbors on either side of his house. His mother was an artist who helped Garriott devise complex science projects that made him something of a science fair celebrity. His father came home at night from NASA with technotoys that wouldn’t be introduced to the general market for 20 years—like the photo multiplier tube, a core segment of what is now referred to as night vision.
“So we would take this photo multiplier tube outside at night and follow the neighborhood cats,” Garriott said.
In Garriott’s world, going to space was normal. So when he was told at the age of 12 that his vision problems would keep him from being an astronaut, it was as if he was barred from the fraternity to which his father and all the family’s associates belonged. As it turned out, he was the first person to travel into space after having laser eye surgery and paved the way for other laser surgery patients to become astronauts.
When he was in high school Garriott was introduced to computers when his school bought a teletype computer that no one knew how to use. The school gave him permission to teach himself to use the computer in one hour a day, every school day, for four years. A fan of the book The Lord of the Rings and the game Dungeons and Dragons, Garriott created 28 video games on that computer.
By the time the Apple computer came out in the late 1970s, Garriott was already a veteran game designer. Right out of high school, he had a national distributor publish one of his games. By the time he got to the fourth version of his first game, Ultima 4, he was focused not only on the technology, but on the impact of it.
“As the author, you’re the hero. But most people do whatever they need to do to be powerful and defeat the bad guy waiting for them at the end, even if that’s steal, pillage, plunder. I thought, how can we hold a mirror up to them to inspire them to be more truly heroic. So I made it so the game watches your behavior. It sees whether you give money to the beggar or not. There was one character who was really easy to steal from and most people figured that out pretty easily and stole from her. But later you might need something from one of those characters. And you’d go up and ask for help and the character would say ‘I’d love to help the hero who is here to save us but you are a lying…stealing….”
Garriott remains a game designer—and an eccentric one at that. He wears a silver snake necklace he made when was 11 that is permanently attached to his neck. He has a lock of hair on the back of his head he’s been growing since the 1980s. He used to wear many rings until he married a year ago and his wife, a hedge fund manager, asked him to scale down to her wedding band for the time being. And he paints his toenails a different color every day. Saturday it was beige.
He collects automatons—toys or work of art that move. He has an Austin mansion that has sometimes been called a haunted house. And he’s a magician.
Last year, Garriott cofounded Portalarium, an Austin-based developer and publisher of games for social networks and mobile platforms. The company’s first game is Ultimate Collector Garage Sale.
But he has other passions now as well. One is the environment. He’d always seen himself as an environmentalist and excused his laxness with the usual excuses: it was too difficult to live truly green. It was too expensive.
Seeing the earth from space, however, he could detect the yellowish smoke over the Amazon and the places in Africa where clear cutting and burning was going on. Seeing the peacefulness of the Pacific and the turbulence of the Atlantic, the fissures from tectonic plate activity and the erosion as water poured into the sea, all gave him a sense of how small, actually, and fragile the earth is.
“Suddenly the earth was finite. It was something you could get your hands around.”
So he came home and revamped his lifestyle, adding photovoltaic panels to his home, reducing waste and trading in all his gas guzzling SUVs for more fuel efficient cars.
He’s also passionate about space.
He’s passionate about finding ways to fund his own future journeys, for one thing. On the recent trip he had created a software that warned astronauts when they were approaching spots where they were supposed to take photos. Previously astronauts had to watch out the window and try to visually line up the photo they’d gone up with with the scene below.
He also did work protein crystallization for ExtremoZyme, Inc., a biotechnology company he co-founded with his father. The proteins they used have important cellular functions and are associated with common human diseases. The weightless environment of space helps form superior crystals which researchers on earth to study to learn more about the molecular structure of these proteins for protein engineering and drug design.
But he’s also passionate about bringing other people the opportunity to share in the kinds of adventures he’s been able to experience.
“I’m an explorer,” he said, “but not an explorer like Sir Edmund Hillary who was the first man to climb Mt. Everest. His attitude was, ‘I’m going to climb this and I might make it or I might die but I have to try.’ I have no interest in dying.”
It used to be that one could only explore as Sir Edmund Hillary did or go on a Disney cruise. He wants to offer alternatives. Today, he said, if you want to go space, the bottom of the sea, or to the poles, his business is the place to seek out.
One of his most amazing adventures was visiting the interior of the Antarctic where the air and silence are so complete they seem to distort your understanding. Describing a place where the scouring wind had created what appeared to be a massive frozen wave he said: “How does our world have things like this and we never see them.”
He wants to see disappearing indigenous populations before they completely disappear. He wants to put a stick in lava.
“I have a passion for exploration,” he said, “I have a passion for understanding and I have a passion to create things for others to explore.”

Space Exploration, NASA Tweetups at SXSW Interactive

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, left, Sen. John Glenn, and NASA Glenn Research Center Director Ray Lugo, right, answer questions at a NASA Tweetup event celebrating John Glenn's legacy and 50 years of americans in orbit held at the Cleveland State University Wolstein Center on Friday, March 3, 2012 in Cleveland, Ohio. Glenn became the first American to orbit Earth in 1962. Photo Credit: (NASA/Bill Ingalls)

NASA Tweetups have gained a cult-like following from space fans.
To qualify for one, you must follow @NASA on Twitter. The agency has more than 1.9 million followers. Once NASA announces a Tweetup, you fill out a simple online application which puts your name into a lottery with hundreds or thousands of other people.
Since the first NASA Tweetup in January of 2009, more than 2,000 people have participated in a NASA Tweetup, which provides a behind the scenes look at what goes on at a NASA facility.
I was lucky to win the NASA Tweetup lottery. I first applied to go to the Johnson Space Center in Houston Tweetup for the final space shuttle landing, but I was put on the wait list and I didn’t make it. When I heard that the NASA Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio planned to hold its first Tweetup to honor Astronaut and former Sen. John Glenn, I applied and I was selected as one of 75 Tweeters.
One of the best parts, NASA allowed us to bring guests. I took my 13-year-old son, Teddy.
Last Thursday, we flew to Cleveland, rented a car, got a hotel and the next morning we drove to the Glenn Research Center. (You pay for all of your own expenses including buying a box lunch.) Check in was between 7:00 a.m. and 8:00 a.m. We made it with 10 minutes to spare. We boarded a bus and toured the center. We visited a zero gravity center and an exercise lab. We also went to a huge hanger and saw a variety of jets and demonstrations. Later, we travelled to the Great Lakes Science Center for lunch and to look at space exhibits. Then we attended a ceremony at Cleveland State University to honor former Sen. John Glenn, and the 50th anniversary of his orbit of the Earth in Friendship 7 on February 20, 1962.
One of the best parts was our Q & A Tweetup with Sen. Glenn. My son asked him about space tourism, which he is in favor of but he thinks someone needs to create better propulsion systems and the flights are too expensive right now.
Astronauts Mike Forman, Mike Good, Gregory Johnson and retired Astronaut Steven Lindsey also met with us and discussed the importance of investing in math and science education for kids to remain competition. They also talked about NASA’s funding cuts and the need to develop commercial transportation to the International Space Shuttle.
The entire experience was fabulous and I highly recommend attending a NASA Tweetup if you’re able to snag a ticket.
But when I got back to Texas I couldn’t help but want more. That’s when I learned about all the space-focused panels at South by Southwest this weekend and early next week.
Also, NASA has more than 100 Twitter accounts that allow you to follow astronauts, NASA facilities, administrators, researchers, staff and more. And NASA should have its own channel on cable television with all of its videos, pictures and stories that it publishes daily.
To find out more about NASA’s social media efforts or about commercial efforts at space travel by Austin’s own Richard Garriott, you might want to attend one of the following SXSW panels.

Richard Garriott’s Continuing Space Mission. Garriott debuted his documentary film “Man on a Mission” last year at the SXSW film festival. This year, he will talk about how the commercial space industry is changing the future. Garriott’s the first second-generation astronaut to fly in space. He travelled to the International Space Station in 2008. His talk is Saturday, March 10 from 12:30PM – 1:30PM at the Hilton Austin Downtown in Salon H.

NASA’s Mission Possible: Tweeting thru Space puts the spotlight on NASA’s social media outreach efforts. The panel features Erik Sowa, NASA Tweetup attendee and director of engineering at ExactTarget’s Social Media Lab, and Stephanie Schierholz, NASA’s former head of social media. The discussion takes place on Sunday, March 11 from 5:00PM – 6:00PM at the Omni Downtown Capital Ballroom.

How to Win Friends and Influence Space Exploration Sunday, March 11
12:30PM – 1:30PM at the Omni Downtown in the Capital Ballroom. “Not unlike a zombie horde ready to devour red tape and uninspired project managers, this enthusiastic movement sees brains as valuable assets to take over the world. Learn why these people got so passionately involved in space, how they became good friends over the Internet, and what they’ve created to make measurable change toward a more awesome tomorrow. While established membership organizations struggle to survive, these Internet-enabled groups are flourishing with new members from far outside traditional demographic lines that are creating large-scale activities. If you don’t already know a space tweep, learn why you will.”

SpacePoints: Space Outreach at Ludicrous Speed – Monday, March 12 at the Hilton from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. in Room 616AB “When NASA’s budget was drastically cut and the commercial aerospace industry found itself in charge of getting man into space, a group of “space geeks” consisting of web developers, aerospace scientists and engineers, and people who have a dream of living in space started meeting up and designed the rules, developed the application, and are sharing Space Points. They are increasing awareness publicly about space policy, increasing funding to aerospace-related research (commercial and government), and having fun playing to win!”

Silicon Hills Technology Weekly Round-Up

The shortage of technology workers in the Silicon Hills region continues. The Austin American-Statesman today reported that the recent trip technology CEOs from Austin took to California didn’t result in any new employees moving to Texas. Perhaps that’s why San Antonio-based Rackspace recently opened an office in San Francisco. The technology companies have to go where the talent resides. Also on Saturday, Rackspace held a recruiting event called Rackerpalooza at its Austin office. Rackspace also recently expanded its San Antonio headquarters.

On Friday, Dirk Elmendorf, one of the founders of Rackspace, gave a talk at San Antonio’s Startup Ignite’s third monthly Hack-a-thon at the Geekdom in downtown San Antonio.

On Wednesday, Austin-based Portalarium, which makes games for social networks and mobile platforms, announced its first social network game, Ultimate Collector: Garage Sale. Gaming Legend Richard Garriott is developing the game, which will be available for a beta release later this year.

Also on Tuesday, the Austin American-Statesman reported that a group of investors including San Antonio Billionaire Red McCombs has invested $1.75 million in an Austin-startup called Bypass Lane, which has created an app that lets people order food and drinks from their seats in a stadium while watching an event.

On Tuesday, the University of Texas honored 40 inventors including Professor John Goodenough and Professor Adam Heller, pioneers of lithium batteries, according to this post from University President Bill Powers.

On Monday, Gowalla’s founder Josh Williams officially announced that Facebook had acquired the Austin-based start-up, but it didn’t acquire the company’s data. It mainly wanted their development team. The Austin American Statesman had a story on the acquisition and didn’t mention anything about the $10 million Gowalla raised in venture capital. But Michael Arrington at Uncrunched reported that the deal might be a liquidation and it was uncertain if investors would get their money back.

On Monday, Globalscape of San Antonio bought Tappin of Seattle in “a deal worth up to $17 million,” according to this story in TechFlash.

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