Stars in Google co-founder’s eyes

Sergey Brin, the Google co-founder and billionaire whose company’s software has mapped the Earth and stars, is planning to blast off into the final frontier.

And though Brin will enjoy unparalleled views on his future orbital space flight, he will also experience some decidedly unglamorous side effects.

An announcement Wednesday by the Virginia-based Space Adventures, which sets up voyages for tycoons to ride on Russian Soyuz rockets to the International Space Station, stated Brin, 34, has paid a $5 million deposit to book a seat aboard a Space Adventures’ flight into space. The money also serves as Brin’s investment into the company.

The company, the only firm to send private citizens to space thus far, has booked five tourists to the International Space Station through Russian missions since 2001. Space Adventures Chief Executive Eric Anderson said Wednesday that the company plans to buy a Soyuz rocket of its own in 2011 and that Brin may be aboard the company’s 2011 voyage, becoming one of the firm’s “founding explorers.”

Though the benefit of space travel is the breathtaking perspective that comes from floating above a glowing home planet, other aspects of flying into space are less than beautiful, said Lynn Cominsky, chair of physics and astronomy at Sonoma State University and spokeswoman for the American Astronomical Society.

During takeoff and landing, space travelers are usually outfitted with a diaper or catheter. Many people also experience intense nausea.

“Throwing up in zero gravity isn’t pretty,” Cominsky said.

In zero gravity, fluids travel upward into the face and head, causing each to swell. Fluids simultaneously leave the lower extremities, according to NASA. Long-term missions can cause bone and muscle loss from a lack of exercise.

Meals on the rocket also aren’t the most enjoyable and must be kept in bags so that they do not fly away. But that hasn’t stopped Space Adventures’ ultra-wealthy clients from living large in zero gravity. Anderson recalled that one space tourist brought along a seven-course meal prepared by French celebrity chef Alain Ducasse.

“Of course, he had to watch it closely so it didn’t just drift off somewhere else,” he said.

While the cost to book a space vacation is currently $20 million to $40 million, Anderson said the price may be within reach to ordinary citizens within 20 years.

A love of space isn’t something new for the Google founder. Google has worked with NASA since 2005 to publish planetary data online and is building a complex at the NASA-Ames Research Center at Moffett Field. Google has also sponsored a $40 million prize to the team that is first to land a privately funded probe to the moon.

tbarak@sfexaminer.com

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