texasmonthly.com: When and where did you first hear about Richard Garriott and his quest to travel in space? Did you have any preconceived ideas about his mission? After meeting him did they change?
Jan Reid: Long story. Richard Garriott is a fine photographer, and he’s been documenting the career of a boxing champion from Austin, Jesus Chavez, whom I and several editors and writers with the magazine have followed and befriended. I met Richard years ago at a prizefight in Atlantic City. I subsequently learned that he was a flamboyant and pioneering designer of video games, a world of which I knew zero. At some point I was talking to him or Robert, his brother and partner, and said, “Wait! Did you say your dad was an astronaut?” From the first year, Texas Monthly has produced some exceptional writing about space exploration—Al Reinert, Bill Broyles, Stephen Harrigan. It’s one of “our” continuing stories. When I turned to writing about Richard I didn’t know a private space race existed, much less that he was obsessed with going himself. Which made the assignment all the more fascinating. It was all surprises. I turned in a draft that was thousands and thousands of words too long.
texasmonthly.com: After researching the subject, do you believe that commercial space flights will eventually become a more common activity for thrill seekers?
JR: Yes, fairly soon. Though it will remain very expensive and may turn out more dangerous than they think. Or say they think.
texasmonthly.com: If you were given the opportunity (and the money) would you consider signing up for a trip to space?
JR: Not at this point in my life. But if I were Richard’s age and was again in that kind of physical condition, I bet I would have considered it. If somebody was willing to pay me to write about it.
texasmonthly.com: In the story you speak of other entrepreneurs racing to be passengers for the first commercial space flights. Are you rooting for Garriott to win?
JR: Sure. No disrespect to the others, but he’s the one I know. His older brother and sister-in-law (the documentary filmmaker Marcy Garriott) are my friends as well, and one of the great pleasures of this assignment was getting to spend time with their father, Owen.
texasmonthly.com: If Garriott fulfills his dream of traveling to space, did he mention what his next adventure would be?
JR: Good question! (Richard often speaks with exclamation points.) He did mention that in the meantime he’s going on one of his submarine voyages to the North Pole. He’s a restless and boundlessly energetic guy, but I don’t believe he’s carried his dream beyond orbiting the earth.
texasmonthly.com: Although Owen Garriott is supportive of his son, did he ever express concerns about his son’s trip or raise questions about the credibility of the program?
JR: No. Never a hint of that. He fully understands and admires his son’s yearning, of course. But I’m a reporter, however much we enjoyed each other’s company. Astronauts and scientists choose their words carefully. As do most fathers, when sharing their relationships with their sons.
texasmonthly.com: Elon Musk spoke about government stifling innovation. Do you think this Howard Hughes approach to space travel is more dangerous or do you now see it as an opportunity to spark public interest that in recent years has dwindled?
JR: I think Musk may very well accelerate space travel as adventure sport. More power to him, in that respect. I also suspect that sooner or later somebody’s going to get killed, on his enterprise’s watch or someone else’s. I hope NASA pays no attention to him. I was insulted by the transcript of his congressional testimony about the space program. This guy may be a visionary, but he has the sense of history—and respect for others’ courage and intellect—of a gnat.
texasmonthly.com: What was the most interesting thing you learned while working on this story?
JR: The South Atlantic Anomaly, I think Owen Garriott called it. When you’re orbiting the earth, angling across the Atlantic, at a certain point south of the equator wild lights start going off in your eyes and brain. Scared the astronauts when they first experienced the phenomenon, I imagine.
texasmonthly.com: Was Richard Garriott what you were expecting? If so, how? If not, why not?
JR: I already knew him, as I said, in some of the many facets of his life. I was startled by his articulateness and sheer intellect. That’s partly because I started off knowing him in a boxing and workout gym, where folks don’t “talk shop” much. I respected him for having done some extraordinarily valuable things with his wealth, but at the outset of the assignment I went in with some quiet reservations about the worth of video games. It’s my generation, or the way my mind works, or just ignorance. To this day I’ve never played one. But I came away thinking Richard was every bit as smart and imaginative as his scientist father. He’s just gone a different way.