Simonyi in Space Is a Good Thing
U.S. Billionaire and Friend of Martha Stewart Takes Flight
BAIKONUR, Kazakhstan, April 7 — A Russian rocket carrying the American billionaire who helped develop Microsoft Word roared into the night skies over Kazakhstan Saturday, sending Charles Simonyi and two cosmonauts soaring into orbit on a journey to the international space station.
Climbing on a column of smoke and fire into the clouds over the bleak steppes, the Soyuz TMA- 10 capsule lifted off at 11: 31 p. m. local time, casting an orange glow over the Baikonur cosmodrome and dozens of officials and wellwishers watching from about a mile away.
The capsule turned northeast and moved downrange before entering orbit about 10 minutes later. It was scheduled to rendezvous with the station Monday.
Among those bidding farewell was Simonyi’s friend Martha Stewart, who watched the launch from a location separate from other spectators.
Stewart’s presence here inspired wide speculation that she and Simonyi — friends for about a decade — were planning to announce their engagement.
After seeing Simonyi off for final preparations, Stewart spent the final hours before the launch aboard another mode of transportation common to this part of Kazakhstan’s steppes — a camel.
“ The ride was excellent,” she said.
Inside the capsule, Simonyi and cosmonauts Fyodor Yurchikhin and Oleg Kotov grinned for the onboard camera, gave the thumbsup sign and batted at a toy black cat hanging from rope — a token of good luck chosen by Kotov and named after his two children.
Simonyi, a 58- year- old native of Hungary, paid $ 25 million for the 13- day trip, the fifth such paying “ space tourist,” or “ space flight participant,” as officials prefer to call them.
In a posting on the blog he intends to maintain while in orbit, Simonyi said he spent his final day getting a haircut and a therapeutic massage and watched a tradition- al showing of a classic Soviet- era war film.
There was no mention of Stewart on the blog.
Three days after arriving at the station and greeting its current occupants — Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin and American astronauts Miguel Lopez- Alegria and Sunita Williams — Simonyi will treat the crews to a gourmet meal, chosen by Stewart, in honor of Cosmonauts’ Day, the Russian day commemorating Yuri Gagarin’s historic 1961 flight into space.
The menu includes quail roasted in Madiran wine, duck breast confit with capers, shredded chicken parmentier, apple fondant pieces, rice pudding with candied fruit, and semolina cake with dried apricots.
Simonyi had said he would bring with him the paper computer tapes that he used decades ago when he first learned programming on a bulky Soviet machine called Ural- 2. He emigrated to the United States in 1968 and eventually worked at Microsoft Corp., helping to develop Word and Microsoft Excel before founding his own software company.
While at the space station, Simonyi will be conducting a number of experiments, including measuring radiation levels and studying biological organisms inside the lab.
He is to return to Earth on April 20 along with Tyurin and LopezAlegria.
Charles Simonyi and Martha Stewart, with a glass wall between them, during a farewell ceremony.