Princeton Man Has Out of This World Experience

By Lauren Wanko

New Jersey entrepreneurs typically don’t keep space gear in their office, but then again Princeton resident Greg Olsen’s experience was anything but typical. This businessman went to space.

“It was always a dream but I never thought it would be possible, and here I was at 60 years old getting to do my dream,” he said.

In 2003, Olsen read an article about Space Adventures, a company that sends private citizens to space.

Olsen said it was like a wow moment, and then turned that moment into reality. He had to pass a series of health exams. The science enthusiast trained for about six months in Russia, where he was tested weekly.

“Now I’m not qualified to fly the vehicle, but I was qualified to do all the emergency and safety procedures, if a fire breaks out or a gas leak,” Olsen said.

It cost the investor $20 million to go to space.

“You need three things to do this: obviously you need the resources, but you also need to desire. I’m amazed by how many people who say I would never do that,” he said. “The third thing you need is about two years of your life that you can set aside. Now, you’re not training for two years, but you take going over to Russia and coming back doing exams.”

Thirty of his friends and family traveled to Kazakhstan for his launch.

“It turns out I was never afraid, but I was always afraid of being afraid. I’m thinking what if I walk up on the rocket and really freak out and I don’t want to do. That didn’t happen. When I was walking up on the rocket on the ladder in the elevator I felt great because I had gone through a lot to get here. When that rocket took off, when I felt the vibrations it was like, yes the next 10 days belong to me,” Olsen said.

The Princeton resident didn’t experience any motion sickness during his 10 day adventure despite the bumpy ride.

“On take off you push back in your seat violently because we go from 0 to 17,000 miles an hour in about 10 minutes, so the acceleration is over three and half times the force of gravity, or thee and a half Gs,” he said.

He traveled for two days on a Russian spacecraft to the International Space Station with two astronauts. While on the Space Station, Olsen says he performed more than 150 orbits of the earth.

“It’s like magic,” he said. “Just imagine if you could float here. It’s like you’re suspended by a magnet or something.”

Olsen’s actual space suit was custom made. He had three fittings and it weighs 22 pounds. This is what he wore for the launch, when he docked to the space station and when he landed back on earth.

He said it was scary to descend because, “first of all you not only have the G forces, but now you’re rolling and tumbling. You see flames shooting out all over on the outside, the windows getting coated with debris.”

Olsen’s grateful he landed safely. Now he often speaks to students about his journey to space and pursuing careers in math and science.

Would he go again? “I would go right now if I could, right out the door,” he said.