March 23, 2009

Tourist To Take Second Shuttle Flight Into Space

Billionaire Charles Simonyi will become the world's first two-time space tourist when he sets off for the International Space Station on Thursday, the Associated Press reported.

Simonyi has now spent $60 million overall to take the space flight with two professional Russian and American astronauts who will be going up for a six-month stint at the space station.

The two-week trip to the space station will likely be his last, as the Russian government is preparing to stop tourist flights in the near future.

The 60-year-old Simonyi, who made his money in computers at Microsoft, also promised his new wife, Lisa Persdotter, a 28-year-old Swedish socialite, that it would be his final spaceflight.

"She was very supportive, but, BUT to a limit, mainly. Just once," Simonyi said.

The Virginia-based Space Adventures has sent six wealthy space enthusiasts to space, so far.

"Spaceflight participants" as NASA calls them, were an initial concern back in 2001, but have since eased over the years with the addition of certain guidelines.

Simonyi must understand his limitations at the orbiting complex and has met with space station program manager Mike Suffredini.

"It really has to do with their safety," as well as the safety of the others and the space station itself, Suffredini said. "They're extremely restricted" in what they can do on the American side.

However, Russian space officials have indicated there will be no more seats available to tourists after this year, as the space station crew is about to double in size to six by the end of May.

Simonyi took his first two-week space station trip in April 2007, and with future tourist flights coming to an end, he didn't want to miss out on another chance.

For this trip, he only spent three months at cosmonaut headquarters in Star City, Russia, compared to the six to eight months required for a first-time trip. A Soyuz capsule will return him to Earth on April 7.

Simonyi said he sees this trip as a continuation of his first flight.

"The reasons are the same. It's to support space research, it's to popularize civilian space flight and communicate the excitement of sciences and engineering to our kids," he said.

Simonyi led the development of Microsoft Word and Excel during his time at Microsoft. He left the software giant in 2002 to start Intentional Software Corp. and the Charles Simonyi Fund for Arts and Sciences.

Simonyi fled from Hungary in 1966 as a teenager, frustrated by Soviet secrecy, and now Russia is allowing him to fulfill his dream once more.

"Who would have thought? The irony of this is amazing," he said.


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