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Back from the International Space Station
Citizen Space Explorer Gregory H. Olsen To Speak At U.Va.

November 2, 2005 -- Citizen space explorer Gregory H. Olsen will discuss his recent 10-day mission to the International Space Station with students at the University of Virginia on Tuesday, Nov. 8. Olsen, who holds a doctorate in materials science from the University’s School of Engineering and Applied Science, will speak at 4 p.m. in the University’s Newcomb Hall Theater. His talk is free and open to the public.

Olsen became the world’s third space traveler on Oct. 1 — joining fellow American Dennis Tito (2001) and South African Mark Shuttleworth (2002)  — when his Soyuz TMA-7 spacecraft took off from Central Asia for the 10-day roundtrip to the International Space Station. Olsen orbited Earth more than 100 times and traveled more than 3 million miles in space.

Once aboard the space station, the scientist and entrepreneur conducted three experiments, requested by the European Space Agency, to study the human body’s reaction to the absence of gravity.

He said the trip was worth all the effort it took to get in shape for the flight, including more than 500 hours of training at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City near Moscow. “I dedicated two years of my life to this,” Olsen said. “It was everything I expected. I’ve seen thousands of pictures of Earth, but just to see it with my own eyes and see how finite it is was a wondrous thing.”

Olsen hopes to use his experience to encourage young people, particularly inner-city youth, to pursue careers in science and education. While in the space station, he spoke with more than 30 high school students in New Jersey and New York by ham radio signal.

During one of his broadcasts, Olsen acknowledged the contributions of U.Va. students, including Heather Hershley, an astronomy student (M.S.’05) who directed a project to build a spectrometer for his flight. He also thanked his family, friends and colleagues who traveled from the United States to Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to watch the launch. Among the observers were Doris Kuhlmann-Wilsdorf, who taught Olsen when he was a doctoral candidate in materials science at U.Va., and William Jesser, who was his dissertation advisor.

The son of an electrician, Olsen grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., and put himself through school working as an electrician’s helper. He is founder and past president of Sensors Unlimited, a fiber optics firm based in Princeton, N. J., which was purchased by Finisar Corp. in 2000. 

A successful entrepreneur, Olsen provided the lead gift for the construction of Wilsdorf Hall, a 99,000 gross-square-foot, five-story structure that will link the University's materials science and chemical engineering buildings. Construction of the $38.9 million building began in February 2003 and is expected to be completed in September 2006. Olsen’s $15 million gift — the largest ever received by the Engineering School — was given in honor of  Kuhlmann-Wilsdorf, who recently retired as University Professor of Applied Science, and her late husband Heinz Wilsdorf, professor and the first chairman of the University’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering.

Space Adventures Ltd., the world’s leading space experiences company, arranged the space missions for Olsen, Tito and Shuttleworth. The company was founded by Eric C. Anderson, a U.Va. graduate in aerospace engineering (’97), who serves as president and chief executive officer of the Arlington-based firm. Anderson also is the co- author of The Space Tourist’s Handbook, the first-ever space travel guide. The book is packed with information about space tourism — from travel-planning tips to survival skills for life-or-death situations. Due out in November, the handbook was written with Joshua Piven, co-author of the Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook.

Anderson will join Olsen in a question-and-answer period following Olsen’s presentation at U.Va., and both men will attend a reception in the lobby of the Newcomb Hall Theater immediately following the session. The presentation and reception are free and open to the public.

Gregory H. Olsen will be available for media interviews from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. on Nov. 8, in the Newcomb Hall Theater at U.Va.

Media Contacts for Interviews:


  • Sheri Winston, Director of TV News, (434) 924-6182,


  • Charlotte Crystal, Senior Information Officer, U.Va. News Office, (434) 924-6858,
  • Josie Loyd, Vice President and Director of Communications, Engineering School (434) 924-1381,

 Gregory H. Olsen’s Schedule for Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2005

 2:30–3:30 p.m.    Interviews with media, Newcomb Hall Theater

4–5:15 p.m.    Public Address. Mr. Olsen will be joined by Eric Anderson for a Q&A session after a brief presentation.

5:30–7 p.m.   Public Reception, lobby of the Newcomb Hall Theater

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Contact the Office of University Relations at (434) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (434) 924-7550.

SOURCE: U.Va. News Services

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