September 10, 2001
IT BILLIONAIRE Mark Shuttleworth is one of those young entrepreneurs who just have to push the envelope until it bulges – whether it’s making millions in cyberspace or seeking the answers to some of life’s most elusive questions in deep space.
Shuttleworth sold his Durbanville internet security company Thawte for billions of rands last year when he was just 26 and emigrated to Britain in February.
He launched The Shuttleworth Foundation, a non-profit-making company, in South Africa earlier this year, with a budget of R30 million over the next three years.
Now he plans to be the first person from Africa to go into space and could get a chance to travel to the International Space Station next April if he beats European rivals.
He has already passed a medical selection test and is receiving training – and Russian lessons – at the Gagarin cosmonaut training centre run by the Russian Aerospace Agency just outside Moscow.
Last night Shuttleworth, 27, appeared on M-Net’s Carte Blanche to explain his yen for outer space, and the reason he is prepared to spend millions to get there.
Shuttleworth said he had always been interested in technology and science and as a child used to burn sugar in experiments.
“I was headed for the moon back then.”
The IT billionaire will probably conduct experiments relating to HIV/Aids and bio-medical studies in space.
The world’s first paying space tourist, American Dennis Tito, reportedly paid up to $20 million (about R160m) for an eight-day space voyage in April and May.
“He (Tito) was dedicated to making that happen,” said Shuttleworth.
Carte Blanche presenter Derek Watts put it to Shuttleworth that many people considered his plan to go into space wasteful and believed the money would be far better spent in other ways.
Shuttleworth countered: “This entire mission will not cost any government anything.
But it will inspire Š it will show what it is possible for a guy from South Africa to do.”
Shuttleworth said inspiration was needed because there were many negative perceptions coming out of Africa and this often affected people’s assumptions of themselves.
He seemed fatalistic about the problems that could occur when speeding through space using an old, albeit fairly trusty, rocket system that hasn’t changed much since the ’60s.
“I accept that I might not come back.
I also accept that when I step outside a hotel door I might not come back,” he said.