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Friday, April 13, 2007 - Page updated at 02:02 AM

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Simonyi to take queries in orbit from Redmond students

Seattle Times Eastside bureau

Ever wondered how astronauts sleep when they're in space?

Or what they do for fun?

On Monday, 20 students from Redmond High School and Redmond Junior High will get to ask Charles Simonyi, 58, the billionaire-turned-space traveler, these and other questions during a 10-minute audio link-up to the international space station.

"The students put a lot of thought into their questions," said Paul Osborne, a Redmond High teacher who is organizing the event at the school. "We feel complimented we got chosen to do this."

Redmond is one of three schools across the country invited to talk with Simonyi via amateur or ham radio. Simonyi talked to Fairborn High School in Ohio on Thursday, and he will also talk to Cedar Point Elementary School in Virginia on Tuesday.

Simonyi, a Medina resident who amassed a fortune as a researcher for Microsoft, paid at least $20 million to be a guest aboard a Russian rocket that launched on April 7. Simonyi is scheduled to return to Earth on April 20. He is the fifth paying private space traveler.

Simonyi picked Redmond as one of the schools to talk to because he wanted to do something for students in his own community, said Lee Keller, Simonyi's spokeswoman. He will communicate with the students using a ham radio, one of the most basic forms of communication available on the space station, Keller said.

The radio signal will be sent to a ground station in Belgium, where it will be picked up by Verizon and handled like a telephone conference call, Osborne said.

Simonyi has gotten thousands of e-mails from children and adults across the world, said Tara Ward of Garrigan Lyman, the company that manages Simonyi's space blog and Web site.

"He has such a proficiency in other languages, he's able to reply to a lot of them in their native language," Ward said.

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Students from Redmond High and Redmond Junior High submitted about 160 questions, Osborne said.

Osborne had to pick just 20 questions from the list — no easy task, he said. One question that stood out to him was "Since there is no up and down in space, do you still get dizzy if you spin yourself around?"

"It never occurred to me to wonder that," Osborne said.

Monday's session will be available on Simonyi's Web site, charlesinspace.com, after the session is complete, Ward said. The event will also be podcast through iTunes.

Simonyi, who was born in Hungary, is president and chief executive officer of Intentional Software, a software engineering firm based in Bellevue. He began training for his space voyage in October.

Simonyi amassed a fortune through his work with computer software, including helping to develop Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel.

Rachael Tuinstra: 206-515-5637 or rtuinstra@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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