Explorer Richard Garriott Didn't Expect NASA's Discovery, Not In His Lifetime

Richard Garriott created the blockbuster game Ultima Online, paid his way onto a Russian rocket and has traveled deep beneath Antarctica. So, yeah, he's pumped about today's NASA news.

"People should not underestimate the data associated with proving that life can be built in new ways," he said during a telephone interview with Kotaku today.

Some may have expected NASA to announce the discovery of life on another planet, considering the anticipation building to today's press conference. The actual news, that a form of life — a microbe called GFAJ-1 found in California, to be specific — can live on arsenic instead of one of what were previously thought to be the six elements essential for life, is, to Garriott, astounding.

"If you asked me, deep down, do I believe there's other life in the universe, my answer is, of course there is. But do I think we'll find any of it any time soon or within my lifetime? Probably not.

"If you asked me similarly, 'Do you think that life could be built out of anything other than those six elements?' I would say, 'Yeah, probably so.' Would I have thought we would encounter some of it right here on earth in our own backyard. Probably not.'

Garriott, the son of an astronaut, is known for video games and for being one of the few multi-millionaires to pay his way onto the international space station, has also spent part of his adventure-filled life looking for the same types of tiny organisms in hostile environments that were discussed in today's NASA report.

He'd looked for them in a trip to Antarctica. He's been down twice to hydrothermal vents on the ocean floor looking for "high-temperature extremophiles."

"I'm very familiar and engaged in biological research that's focused on looking for these extremophile lifeforms and looking for their unique properties because, as it turns out, in addition to being strange, it's quite common that both the bacteria themselves and some of the proteins within them are useful. So this discovery, not only does it set us up to have a very interesting look at how life might be put together well beyond the six standard elements, but just from a biochemistry standpoint is very interesting."

I suggested that Garriott, a collector, should try to get some of today's new bacteria. Add it to his collection. He laughed. "Now that you mentioned it, don't be surprised if you see me out there with a scoop digging for my own."

For his day job, Garriott is developing games for his newest venture the free-games platform Portalarium.