Gregory Schneider, a 28-year-old father of two who just completed law school, is headed into space on the Seattle Space Needle’s dime.
Schneider, a native of Nashville, Tenn., who now lives in Tucson, Ariz., beat out thousands of other candidates to win the Space Needle’s 50th anniversary "Space Race 2012" contest Wednesday.
Schneider, who cried with joy at the announcement, has been busy. He said he completed his law school classes at the University of Arizona in Tucson last Thursday, won the 'Space Race' competition Wednesday and will take part in his law school graduation ceremony in Tucson on Saturday.
The other competitor to reach the final challenge was Sara Cook, 26, a diplomatic assistant at the Japanese Embassy in Washington, D.C.
After three others were eliminated during the first two days of the final competition in the Seattle area, Schneider and Cook went head to head Wednesday for the prize.
The two took turns Wednesday climbing the antenna on the very top of the Space Needle for best time, and then answered questions and solved puzzles as they walked around the intimidating “halo” -- on the outside -- of the Space Needle’s observation deck 605 feet above the ground.
Schneider ended up with the best time, and Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin opened the envelope and read the winner’s name.
Aldrin was intrigued by the contest and by the performance of the two finalists, "I've been kind of out and back," he said, "but you wouldn't catch me walking around that Space Needle. I'm afraid of heights."
Schneider and his wife, Lindsay, have two children, Emi, 7, and Jude, 3. He said his family is his motivation to go to space. He said he wants to “inspire my children, to turn their dreams into reality, to venture into the cosmos, and to understand the universe.”
Like their father, Emi and Jude are interested in outer space. “(Jude) talks constantly about blasting off in a rocket ship, and I won’t be surprised when he eventually does,” Schneider said.
Schneider will be launched on a sub-orbital trip into space, more than 62 miles above Earth, by the private firm Space Adventures Ltd. The trip is valued at $110,000.
Space Adventures, the company that organized the flights for the world's first private space explorers, is headquartered in Vienna, Va., with an office in Moscow.
The Space Needle's "Space Race" program was launched in August 2011 and garnered 50,000 applicants from around the country by the end of last year. One-thousand entrants were randomly selected from that group, and those 1,000 were asked to submit videos detailing why they wanted to go into space.
Of the 1,000, 20 videos were selected and posted to the Space Needle’s Facebook page for public voting through March 18.
The final five candidates were then selected and brought to Seattle for the three-day final event. In addition to Schneider and Cook, Lauren Furgason from Seattle; John Herman from Newmarket, N.H.; and Savan Becker from New York City were in the final competition.