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Space tourist calls flight 'awe-inspiring'

Millionaire scientist Gregory Olsen holds up the gloves he wore in space.


Space Programs
CNN Access

NEW YORK (CNN) -- American millionaire Gregory Olsen recently became the third civilian to visit space -- taking a trip this month to the international space station on board a Russian Soyuz rocket.

Olsen, who spent two years training and paid $20 million for the trip, spoke Monday with CNN's Tony Harris about his space adventure.

HARRIS: Did you have a nice flight?

OLSEN: Yes, it was the experience of a lifetime to be able to float around in space and look out at the Earth. I just can't describe how awe-inspiring it really is.

HARRIS: Tell me about it. I want to know more.

OLSEN: Well, when that rocket launched I was the most peaceful, happiest person you can imagine. I had no fears. My only fear was maybe that I wouldn't get to go, and once I knew I was going, I was happy.

HARRIS: Where did that fear come from that you might not be able to go?

OLSEN: Well, you know, a year ago I had a small medical disqualification. The Russians had very strict medical standards, so, you know, it was kind of a devastating blow to me. And I always had that in the back of my head that maybe something would come up, but I was always very healthy and, you know, I did get approval from the medical boards. My own doctors approved -- I was fit, and I was able to do it.

HARRIS: How tough was the training?

OLSEN: ... It was like being back in college again -- classes, physical training. But I loved it. It was like 30 years ago.

HARRIS: Give us a couple of -- maybe the big and maybe a couple of the small take-aways of this trip for you.

OLSEN: The big one was that I was able to achieve my goal of getting into space, and the highlight was just floating in air and looking out. Nothing can beat that. Some of the small things -- when I came back to Earth, I brought my space gloves with me.

HARRIS: What do you have there? Are those the gloves you actually wore?

OLSEN: These are the gloves I actually wore. And yesterday I was with my grandchildren, Justin, Carter and Danielle, and they were playing with the gloves and that just made me feel great.

HARRIS: Did you get an opportunity to float around on the international space station?

OLSEN: Yes, I did. It's roughly the width of a tractor-trailer -- about four car lengths long, so I would practice just zooming from one end to the other, which was quite a trip in itself.

HARRIS: That's odd. We think of it as being -- I guess from the pictures and everything -- we think of it as being bigger than that.

OLSEN: No, no. That's it. Now, some parts remain to be built, of course. That's why we have the shuttle.

HARRIS: I have to ask you, when you were making the connection with the students back here on Earth -- I understand you had the capability -- I know there was one hookup with the students at Princeton. What were they most interested in learning about [from] your trip?

OLSEN: What it's like to eat, to sleep and the restroom facilities. Those were the big questions.

HARRIS: So what was it like to eat?

OLSEN: Good. It's like a camping trip -- packaged goods. Sleeping was either the ceiling or the wall -- you take a choice. And the restrooms were a vacuum hose.

HARRIS: I understand your company makes cameras and highly sensitive film.

OLSEN: Yes, my company Sensors Unlimited makes a near-infrared camera that can see in the dark. You know, we can see the health of crops by the water content. But night vision is a big application for the camera.

HARRIS: So were there actually experiments tied to the work that your company does?

OLSEN: Yes. I had planned to take the Sensors camera up, and unfortunately, we couldn't get approval to do that so I did take a model of the camera up.

HARRIS: So what do you do with this experience now? Do you talk about it to anyone who wants to hear about it?

OLSEN: That's exactly right. I want to focus on youngsters. I want to talk to as many school groups as I can, especially in inner cities, my home state of New Jersey and New York City. And wherever else they'll listen to me, I'll be there.

HARRIS: Changed your life, didn't it?

OLSEN: It sure did.

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