Helen Garriott was a world away from her son as he spent the past two weeks on the international space station, but she was with him all the way.
From her Las Vegas home, she kept watch over every step of the 47-year-old American space tourist’s journey.
Garriott, 78, has seven three-ring binders brimming with photos, articles, e-mail exchanges and other information about Richard Garriott’s 12-day trip printed from her computer, where she often sat for hours watching live satellite feeds from the space station.
Armed with her digital camera, she and another son, Robert, and a neighbor watched the Russian Soyuz capsule safely touch down Thursday night.
The landing was uneventful by mission control’s standards, but the trio made a party out of it around Helen’s computer in her narrow kitchen.
"I only held my breath some of the time," she said. "I almost feel like I made the trip with him."
In many ways, she did.
Garriott, a lifelong artist, and her son tested an art project together aboard a zero-gravity plane flight in Las Vegas in March. They released droplets of ink inside a plastic bag on canvas while bumping and floating into their fellow flyers.
The whole weightless experience is chronicled in one of her many memory binders.
"That was just gobs of fun. I haven’t done anything like that before," Helen said.
The pair chatted about the art project during a six-minute personal call Richard made to his mother while orbiting the Earth on Sunday. It was a success.
While in orbit Richard also displayed pieces of her artwork, which will be auctioned for charity.
But Helen Garriott is no newcomer to the space program.
Richard Garriott paid $30 million for the space flight to follow in the footsteps of his father, Owen K. Garriott, a former NASA astronaut who flew three space missions in the 1970s and 1980s. Owen was in Kazakhstan for the landing.
Richard once played the Harry Chapin 1974 folk rock song "Cats in the Cradle" for his mother to drive the message home — "I’m going to be like you, Dad."
"Ever since he was 13, he had his sights set on space," Helen said.
At the time, the family would keep track of Owen’s progress in Houston and scramble to their NASA-issued "squawk box" when they knew he would be able to talk with them.
Helen’s Las Vegas apartment is a time capsule from that past.
Pictures of Owen and his crew in space are mounted on the wall, but are smaller than the shot of the men and their wives, including Helen, standing with President Nixon in the White House.
A telescope is perched near the balcony, space shuttle replicas line a bookshelf, and patches from both Richard’s and Owen’s space flights hang on the wall.
In another room, Helen has a separate table where she has microscopes to analyze various things and books about protozoans checked out from the library.
"I’ve always been interested in science," said Helen, who admitted to aspiring to be a botanist at one point.
The sense of adventure is something Helen gladly passed on to her four children.
Eye problems prevented Richard from joining the NASA space program but his dream didn’t fade. After corrective eye surgery and financial boosts from sponsors, the computer game designer made his dream a reality.
He was the sixth space tourist to travel on the Russian spacecraft to the International Space Station, a fete he arranged through Space Adventures Ltd. Richard is an investor and board member for the company as well.
His mission caps off a list of other adventures including parachuting from a hot-air balloon, traveling to the deep reaches of the ocean in a Russian submarine, and visiting the wreckage of the Titanic, which sank to the floor of the Atlantic Ocean in 1912.
"He’s an adventurer, that’s for sure," his mother said. "This is about as far as he can go."
Helen moved to Las Vegas eight years ago for a change of pace from her native Oklahoma.
"I had run out of things to do and I began watching soaps on TV and I said, ‘This isn’t going to work, I’ve got to get a life,’ " she said.
For the last few weeks, Richard’s flight has been her life, and she is proud of that.
"It’s been absolutely perfect. They couldn’t have asked for a better flight," Helen said.
"He has already said he wants to go back."
Contact reporter Maggie Lillis at mlillis@ revewjournal.com or 702-383-0279.ON THE WEB View the slideshow