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Originally published February 19, 2009 at 12:00 AM | Page modified February 19, 2009 at 8:39 AM


Brier Dudley

In space, on Earth, life is full for Simonyi

During a break in his training regimen Wednesday, Charles Simonyi called from Russia and gave an update on his next flight to space, married life and plans to remodel his Medina mansion.

Seattle Times staff columnist

Excerpts from the blog

During a break in his training regimen Wednesday, Charles Simonyi called from Russia and gave an update on his next flight to space, married life and plans to remodel his Medina mansion.

Simonyi, the former Microsoft executive known as "the father of Word," is scheduled to make his second trip to the international space station next month, becoming the first commercial space traveler to make multiple trips.

Hungarian-born Simonyi, 60, announced in September that he'd fill an open spot on a trip arranged by Space Adventures, the Virginia company that also arranged his 2007 trip.

It contracts with the Russian space agency to fly well-heeled tourists aboard Soyuz rockets to the space station.

Simonyi's trip may be the last for a while because Russian space officials last month said they're going to start using all the seats for crew members instead. Space Adventures hopes to continue with private flights in 2011 and has reservations from the likes of Google co-founder Sergey Brin.

Meanwhile, Simonyi's been busy. In late November he married Lisa Persdotter, a 28-year-old Swedish socialite and investment manager, then began space training Jan. 10 at Star City outside Moscow.

"I decided on flying before we got engaged, and she said yes to both," he said.

When he gets back, he'll have a honey-do list: Persdotter is fine living at his house on Lake Washington, Simonyi said, but there will be some remodeling. They'll also live part time at a new house she's building in Sweden.

Training continues until March 26, when he's scheduled to lift off at 11:48:53, Moscow time. The trip will be 13 days long on Spacecraft No. 13, but Simonyi said he's not superstitious.

Simonyi expects the Russians to stick to their schedule. While watching the last launch, in November, he bet a friend $1,000 ("for charity," he added) that they'd take off within 2 seconds of the scheduled time — and won.

Because he has traveled to space within the last two years, Simonyi's going through abbreviated training, plus a refresher course in Russian.


Here are some excerpts from our conversation:

Q: Are you ready for the trip?

A: I'm looking at this as a continuation of the previous one. You learn to ride your bicycle, you get your driver's license and what you really want to do is drive. There's a lot of difference between people who have been to space and have the experience and people who are new to space. There's a learning curve that's a week or more.

Q: So you'll be able to do more scientific experiments on the space station?

A: I think I'll be able to be efficient, and be able to do the experiments well from day one as opposed to fumbling through, learning to get around, learning the simple acts of performing tasks, holding things down and not letting things get lost all the time. I think I'll be able to do a much better job than the first time.

Q: Are you nervous, or feel that you're taking more chances with a second trip?

A: No, certainly not. I think there's a certain amount of pressure of doing things faster, doing things better, but no, I'm not nervous.

Q: Will yours be the last commercial space trip?

A: I haven't had time to follow it in great detail. I feel very fortunate. There are certainly other doors that are closing for me — the most important being the wife saying no to future spaceflights.

If I don't fly now, it would be a much bigger training schedule. I'm not getting any younger.

Really, I think that these pronouncements (about Russia ending space tourism this year) are relatively short-term, for the next decade or maybe the next few years.

For the long term, I think it's pretty obvious that civilian spaceflight will be a key part of the space effort.

Q: Are you concerned about debris from the recent satellite collision?

A: No, it's in a different orbit. The airspace, so to speak, that is occupied by the space station is watched very carefully. These other satellites were in uncontrolled airspace.

It points out that the airspace that is important to us should be watched very carefully.

Q: I understand this trip will cost you more than $35 million, versus around $25 million the last time.

A: The costs are going up — both the manufacturing costs and the demand are going up. It's a short-term phenomenon.

Q: Will you continue living in Medina, now that you've married a Swede?

A: We have to do some changes in the interior of the house, but I think yeah, it's a very attractive place. She started to build a house (in Sweden) before the engagement. We'll continue to have another place.

Q: Your Medina house was the ultimate bachelor pad ...

A: I'm disappointed how much of a bachelor pad it really turned out to be. But it's never too late to fix it.

Q: Will you take more books to the space station?

A: I decided not to. I want to see if the old ones are still there. It's really a Kindle the space station needs.

Q: So you have a Kindle?

A: I do, but it's not qualified for the space station — they're very nervous about electronics and especially software. I'm not going to be the one that pays for qualification.

Q: What will you do to make a mark this time?

A: I'm not trying to make a mark. I will be a little bit more prepared and leave my personal patch on board. Last time I didn't leave a patch — didn't know you should take a patch.

Q: You have a personal spacesuit patch?

A: Yes. It quotes Goethe, from "Faust": "The eternal feminine draws us upward." The space station is the eternal feminine, of course.

This material has been edited for print publication.

Brier Dudley's blog appears Thursdays. Reach him at 206-515-5687 or

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest. | 206-515-5687

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