Back to flight school

Esther Dyson · October 9, 2008 · Short URL:

Chances of going are probably 5 percent. But it's a chance!

 I'm about to go into training in Moscow as a backup astronaut, shadowing Charles Simonyi, who is going up for a second time in March (and who long ago wrote Microsoft Word). Here is the press release from Space Adventures .

I started a conference a couple of years ago called "Flight School," for entrepreneurs in air and space. Last June, we canceled this year's event; we were getting a foretaste of the current rotten economy - Eclipse's troubles, DayJet suspending operations, a general malaise - and didn't think we could get enough attendees to put on a good show. I'm still hoping to revive the conference - but probably not until 2010.

In the meantime, however, I'm embarking on another kind of Flight School, and trying to play it cool as I mention casually that I'm about to start training as a backup cosmonaut for Charles Simonyi, who will be making his second trip into space this coming March 25. If for some reason he doesn't go (and I can scrounge up some extra cash), I get to go instead!

Yup! My chances of going this spring are probably about 5 percent. (I know Charles well enough to sincerely wish him good health and godspeed.) But my chances of ever going will probably be about 50 percent once I complete the training. (You know the joke about the whiner who begs God to let him win the lottery, just once! God responds from on high: "So, please, at least buy a ticket!" I have bought my ticket.)

So, I'm going to start posting here regularly about my experiences... which, to be candid, will probably not all be fun. I'm expecting it to be cold staying in Star City through a Moscow winter, with a lot of detailed material to learn and exams to pass. Each Soyuz flight has three cosmonauts, and the other two want a colleague they can rely on to do the right thing in an emergency. By all accounts the food is "stolovaya" (canteen) and the accommodations are Spartan. But hey! there will be a purpose to it, and at the end I will know space flight and the Russian space program intimately - except for the actual experience of floating up there for a week or more.

Other people go back to school to get an MBA; I'm going to get a space degree.

One of the best times in my life was when I was writing a book (Release 2.0: A design for living in the digital age) back in the late 90s. For about four months, I canceled all appointments and went to the office every day. About two weeks into this routine, my partner Daphne Kis walked into my office and said, "You know, I don't know how to say this, but we were all terrified to have you here full-time. We thought you'd be working hard and be really crabby, but you're in such a good mood!"

Indeed I was, because I had made a commitment to a single goal, and I no longer had any conflicts. I was devoted to the book.

In the same way, I expect to spend most of the next six months, and especially January to March, fully devoted to my training. I am politely canceling my appointments and commitments and refusing new ones, but now it's easy, whereas before it was hard. (Apologies to anyone reading this who's on my cancellation list!) Now I have a specific "better offer."

I'm already looking forward to the time after March 25, when the hard work will all be over and I'll be a trained cosmonaut, but I'm also looking forward to the psychological clarity of having a single mission. More on the trials and tribulations later!

Coming soon:

Richard Garriott's launch tour: I'll be in Moscow and Baikonur next week to watch Richard Garriott go up October 12

The medical: I did half of this last spring at University of Texas medical Branch (yes, my records were backed up); I will do the rest two weeks from now in Moscow following Richard's launch

General coverage of the space marketplace: I'll have lots of time to write every evening after classes (which run 9 to 6 every day)

(Image source: astro.uva)

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Esther Dyson

Executive Founder, Wellville; Angel investor

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