Soyuz soars into orbit
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS "SPACE PLACE" & USED WITH PERMISSION
Posted: April 7, 2007
On board are Expedition 15 commander Fyodor Yurchikhin, a shuttle veteran, rookie flight engineer Oleg Kotov and American businessman Charles Simonyi, who paid the Russians some $20 million to become history's fifth space tourist. Waiting to greet them aboard the station are Expedition 14 commander Mike Lopez-Alegria, Mikhail Tyurin and Sunita Williams.
During 12 days of joint operations aboard the space station, Lopez-Alegria, Tyurin and Williams plan to brief Yurchikhin and Kotov on station operations, review safety procedures and familiarize the new cosmonauts with where critical items are stowed. Simonyi will serve as a research subject in ongoing medical studies and chat with students and well wishers by ham radio. Both crews will participate in a variety of media interviews throughout the handover period.
"My primary goal is going to be to take care of myself so I won't be a burden (to the other astronauts)," Simonyi said during a news conference in December.
Simonyi ranks 374th on the Forbes Magazine list of the 400 richest Americans with assets valued at about $1 billion. His friend Martha Stewart, who recently interviewed the Expedition 14 crew on her television show, flew to Baikonur for launch.
Born in Budapest, Hungary, Simonyi's interest in spaceflight blossomed when, at age 13, he was selected as Hungary's "junior astronaut," flew to Moscow and met cosmonaut Pavel Popovich.
After a stint at Xerox Corp.'s Palo Alto Research Center designing one of the first what-you-see-is-what-you-get word processing programs, Simonyi joined Microsoft Corp. and led the development of Word and Excel. He left Microsoft in 2002 and founded Intentional Software Corp. He is an accomplished jet and helicopter pilot with more than 2,000 hours flying time.
"I always had an interest in technology and aerospace, I've been a subscriber to Aviation Week (& Space Technology magazine) for a very long time," he said. "I never thought I would have the opportunity of participating in this process. I was very fortunate to start learning to fly fairly early and gained a number of experiences in different aircraft and I enjoyed that very much. When this opportunity came up, I thought it was very important and unique and just had to do that."
The idea first surfaced during a tour of Baikonur and eventually, contact with Space Adventures, the company that brokers civilian flights with the Russian space agency.
"I went to tour the launch site just out of general interest," he said. "I've been to Cape Canaveral several times, many times actually, and I've seen some launches and I noted that it was possible to go and take a trip to Baikonur and see a launch there. And what I saw impressed me very, very much. And that's how I connected with Space Adventures. Then, of course, one thing led to another."
"The contribution of civilian spaceflight, the financial contribution, should not be underestimated," he said. "The amount of support that the Russians receive from this is significant because the total amounts that are involved in the Russian space program are smaller to begin with. And if you think how important the Russian space program is to the American program and the world's program in terms of providing transportation capability to the space station, the lifeboat capability on the space station ... i think through the support of the Russian space program, it becomes support for everyone.
"If we look to the future, I think it's inevitable that commercial spaceflight, civilian spaceflight will be one day dominant," he said. "You know, when we're looking at 'Star Trek' there has to be some path to get there and I think now is the time to make the incremental steps. ... I'm very fortunate to be in a position to continue these incremental steps."
Asked if he believes less affluent space enthusiasts will ever get a chance to leave the planet, Simonyi said "there's no question that they will, the only question is when and what will the destination be and what will be the carrier? I think suborbital space tourism is going to be an important element that will contribute to great innovation."