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10/3/2008
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'Ultima' Game Creator To Conduct Experiments On Space Station

Video game designer and programmer Richard Garriott will cooperate with NASA on experiments, including studying how astronauts' eyes react to low and high pressure.

Far beyond the realm of his video games, software programmer Richard Garriott is scheduled to launch aboard a Soyuz TMA spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome and join the International Space Station later this month.

Garriott will cooperate with NASA on experiments during his 10-day mission as part of the space station's Expedition 18 crew beginning with his launch on Oct. 12

Garriott is best known for developing the "Ultima" series of video games. He also co-founded PC game developers and publishers Origin Systems, and created the online multiplayer Ultima Online. He also co-founded the North American arm of NCsoft, the world's largest online game developer and publisher. Garriott's latest game, Tabula Rasa, launched in North America and in the European Union last year.

Garriott has a ticket to the space station because he is an orbital spaceflight client of Space Adventures, the only company that provides commercial human space missions. During his mission, he will participate in three NASA experiments.

The first experiment will study how astronauts' eyes react to low and high pressure, as well as variations in oxygen concentrations in a microgravity environment. Garriott will be the first person in space who has had photorefractive keratectomy eye surgery. NASA has approved the PRK procedure for astronauts but has not yet been able to test its effects. Garriott will help scientists figure out if visual acuity of a PRK patient changes in orbit as inner eye pressure increases by up to 50% during space flights.

The second experiment will study the effects of spaceflight on the human immune system and validate immune system monitoring procedures for astronauts. It will test white blood cells' function and response to stimulation in space. Previous studies suggest that spaceflight may be associated with immune system suppression. Garriott will provide samples and deliver fresh samples from crew members who have had extended stays in space.

"I am enthusiastic to participate in these experiments," he said. "As my father [Owen Garriott] was a NASA astronaut, it seems fitting that I, as a private astronaut, also assist in their research as a continuation of my family's contribution to the space agency."

The third study centers on sleep and waking patterns, which spaceflight seems to disturb. Scientists hope to better understand how those patterns are affected so they can develop ways to improve the health, productivity, and safety of astronauts in space.

"Space exploration is of critical importance to our future as a species," said Eric Anderson, president and CEO of Space Adventures. "Through Richard's gracious participation in these NASA experiments, he will be making an important contribution to the future of human permanence in space."

NASA Television will broadcast the launch of Garriott and other crew members, as well as the landing of the current crew Oct. 23. The crews' rotation activities, including training, the rollout of the spacecraft to the launchpad, and a final news conference, will air from Oct. 8 through Oct. 11.

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