Billionaire ex-Microsoft developer set for space travel

It's a long way from helping Microsoft write Word and Excel, that's for sure

Next month, billionaire software developer Charles Simonyi, will become the fifth civilian to fly in space when he rockets to the international space station aboard a Russian Soyuz TMA-10 capsule. He will be joined by Russian cosmonauts Fyodor Yurchikhin and Oleg Kotov and return to Earth 11 days later with the systems current orbiting crew -- Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin and Spanish-born U.S. astronaut Miguel Lopez-Alegria, according to reports. Simonyi is spending more than US$20 million for the trip.

Stanford Phd. grad Simonyi was hired by Xerox PARC during what many consider to be its most productive period, working with Alan Kay , Butler Lampson and Robert Metcalfe. He started work for Microsoft in 1981 and oversaw the development of Word and Excel, as well as Excel's predecessor Multiplan. He left in 2002 to co-found, with business partner Gregor Kiczales, a company called Intentional Software. This company markets the intentional programming concepts Simonyi developed at Microsoft Research.

According to an Associate Press story, Simonyi learned computer basics on a clunky, Soviet-era computer called Ural-2. When he takes to space he will take a paper-tape memento from that first computer.

After beginning training in Russia last fall, Simonyi, like the other space tourists before him, has had to learn to walk and breathe in a cumbersome space suit, use special gas masks, practice helicopter rescues in case of a water landing and other tasks. The hardest thing of all, he told the AP, has been spinning in a high-speed rotating chair to help train against dizziness in space -- along with learning some Russian. Now that he is finished training, he says he is sure the trip will go without a hitch.

"My mother is very worried but very understanding, and I think we'll be all right," he later told the AP in an interview.

At the station, he will conduct a number of experiments, including measuring radiation levels and studying biological organisms inside the space station.

Simonyi follows in the footsteps of Dennis Tito , Mark Shuttleworth, Gregory Olsen and Anousheh Ansari -- as space flight tourists who have travelled to the international space station aboard Russian rockets in trips brokered by the U.S.-based company Space Adventures Ltd.

Like all crew members on the orbiting station, Simonyi will be able to phone relatives, write e-mails, contact his support team and even write a blog. He also plans to treat five crew members to a gourmet dinner, including wine-roasted quail, duck breast and rice pudding -- specially prepared to be consumed in space.

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Michael Cooney

Network World
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