Internationally renowned computer game designer Richard Garriott will travel to space on Oct. 12 on a mission underscoring the importance of environmental conservation in key Texas sites and other locations around the world.
Garriott, a member of The Nature Conservancy, will visit the International Space Station for several days as a private citizen. He is working with Nature Conservancy scientists in Texas and at the group's headquarters in Arlington, Va., to photograph a variety of sites from space to study long-term environmental changes on Earth.
Garriott will follow in the footsteps of his father, former NASA astronaut Dr. Owen Garriott, who flew missions on Skylab and the Space Shuttle Columbia in the 1970s and '80s. "With input from Nature Conservancy scientists, I will be re-photographing many of the same ecologically significant places on Earth that my dad photographed 35 years ago aboard Skylab, the first Earth-observation laboratory," said Garriott, who approached the Conservancy last spring to request information on priority conservation areas and to determine what contributions he could make to the organization during this mission. "We will compare the images to show how the Earth has changed in just one generation.
"I will also photograph landscapes that can be viewed 'macroscopically' to show large-scale changes, such as expanding urban areas, increasing areas of desert, and deforestation or reforestation. Many of these issues reflect climate change or global warming," he said, adding, "Scientists at The Nature Conservancy are helping me select sites to re-photograph based on conservation priorities in particular parts of the world."
"We are thrilled to have Richard as a partner in raising awareness about the importance of conservation here in Texas and beyond," said Laura Huffman, Texas state director for The Nature Conservancy. "As a global conservation organization, we are excited to share our scientific know-how as part of this mission as a reminder of conservation successes as well as the urgent and ongoing need to work to protect many of the world's most important habitats."
Texas landscapes that may be included in Garriott's study include the Davis Mountains of far West Texas, bays and estuaries along the Texas gulf coast, the Blackland Prairie of North Texas and the longleaf pine forests of East Texas.
For example, The Nature Conservancy's work in the Davis Mountains has helped conserve close to 100,000 acres of natural lands for future generations. Photographs taken from space at night could show geographic changes here, and also indicate whether land conservation is helping to preserve the region's "dark skies" necessary for astronomers at the University of Texas McDonald Observatory.
Landscape-scale photography could illustrate habitat loss on the Blackland Prairie, where the Conservancy works to protect one of the most threatened habitats on Earth. Since the organization has multiple conservation sites along the Texas coast and is working to conserve Big Thicket longleaf pine forests, the images also could help highlight the Conservancy's future work in these areas.
Other threatened United States and global landscapes may include China's Yangtze River, the Highland Forests of East Africa, the Appalachian Mountains, grasslands of northern Australia, arid lands of Namibia, the Mississippi River and the rivers of the Andes Mountains.
While conservation is an important aspect of his flight, Garriott will be undertaking various other science projects, including growing protein crystals in space in order that the molecular structures of the crystals may be better understood for use in pharmaceutical research.
"While we look to technology to bring us many of life's necessities and pleasures, I think it's of great importance that we also conserve the natural world, which fulfills another set of our essential needs and values," Garriott said. "We must address issues such as urban expansion, freshwater depletion, marine conservation and deforestation with the same fervor we bring to technological advancement."
Garriott also will be offsetting the carbon emissions created by his flight into space by purchasing carbon offsets through TerraPass, which allows consumers to invest in projects such as renewable energy to help remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere in amounts to those produced by energy use.
A member of Bat Conservation International in addition to The Nature Conservancy, Garriott also actively supports Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve in Austin. He is privately funding his space flight and stay at the International Space Station through Space Adventures, a company that organizes private space exploration, and for which Garriott serves as vice chairman.
An interactive Web feature on Richard Garriott's conservation mission in space can be found on the [URL=http://www.nature.org/richard]Nature Conservancy website[/URL].