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This American Space Explorer Is the First—and Only—Private Owner of an Object on the Moon

by multimill
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Richard Garriott has already made a name for himself as a founding father of the video-game industry. These days, he’s been busy doing the same for space travel.

Garriott is the only person on the planet to complete the Explorer’s Quadfecta, traveling to the North and South Poles, the Mariana Trench, and orbital space. In 2008, the British-born American computer-game tycoon became one of the first private astronauts in space after purchasing a ticket aboard Russia’s Soyuz TMA 13 mission to the International Space Station.

“I’ve really enjoyed going places where the laws of physics really seem to change, or the aspects of nature are completely different than those you experience in your daily routine,” Garriott tells Robb Report. “The unique part of orbital space is the fact that you are 250 miles above the surface of the Earth orbiting at 17,000 miles an hour, with an astounding view out the window. The zero gravity is frankly just a bonus. It’s giddy fun to be forever floating in microgravity.”

Richard Garriott with Soyeuz 13 mission.

In 2008, Garriott (right) took part in the Soyuz TMA 13 mission to the International Space Station. He’d like to be one of the first humans on Mars.

Getty Images

He also owns a rover currently crawling the surface of the moon, making him the first private owner of an object on the lunar surface. The formerly Soviet lunar rover he purchased for $68,500 at an auction in 1998 gives him property rights to the ground beneath it.

“I buy a lot of things at auction,” says the entrepreneur, whose expeditions have taken him across all seven continents. “Medieval armor, scientific instruments. But to become the world’s only private owner of an object on a foreign celestial body—that has an innately high story value. Plus, it begins to set legal and historical precedence. To this day, I think it was money well spent.”

Soviet lunar rover purchased by Richard Garriott in 1998.

Garriott purchased this Soviet lunar Rover in 1998 for $68,500, making him the first individual to own a piece of a celestial body.

Courtesy Richard Garriott

Garriott, 62, serves as president of the Explorers Club, the 119-year-old New York–based association to promote scientific exploration and field study. Its members, which consist of the first people to visit the North and South Poles, reach the Mariana Trench, summit Mount Everest and land on the moon, include explorers such as Jane Goodall, Sylvia Earle, and Buzz Aldrin.

Though much of the globe has been discovered since the Explorers Club’s 1904 founding, Garriott says, outer space, roughly 85 percent of Earth’s ocean depths, and many unclimbed mountain peaks still present new frontiers.

This spirit of inquiry has defined Garriott’s trajectory. He hoped to become a NASA astronaut like his father, but poor eyesight pushed him into computer programming. He wrote 28 computer fantasy games during high school where the Lord of the Rings and Dungeons & Dragons fan lobbied administrators to let him create a self-directed course in programming beyond the single one-semester BASIC class the school offered.

Richard Garriott at the South Pole.

The former video-game executive is the first to complete the “Explorer’s Quadfecta,” traveling to the North and South Poles, the Mariana Trench, and orbital space.

Courtesy Richard Garriott

Garriott pioneered the industry, establishing the computer role-playing genre and coining the term “avatar” for one’s virtual self. He served as the inspiration for the character James Halliday, the fictitious tech mogul who posthumously sets off the quest underpinning Ernest Cline’s 2011 dystopian novel, Ready Player One, and Stephen Spielberg’s film adaptation.

Garriott sold Origin Systems, the video-game developer he founded with his brother, to Electronic Arts in 1992 for $35 million. He sold a second company, Destination Games, for an even greater sum before pursuing his seat on the Soyuz TMA 13 mission. Now he’s an investor in half a dozen aerospace companies, including Space Adventures.

“I really do hope that I survive long enough to be part of the Mars generation,” Garriott says. “I’m a believer in moving humanity farther off the planet. Statistically, I’m still betting I will get a chance to go beyond the moon.”

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