Accessibility links

Breaking News

Space Tourist to Take Books Into Orbit

The next Soyuz spaceflight to the International Space Station is scheduled for launch on Saturday, carrying two Russian cosmonauts and a private American citizen. Jim Bertel narrates this report on the flight produced by VOA's Valer Gergely in Moscow

The Soyuz TMA-10 will be launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The space capsule will take two Russian cosmonauts and a U.S. software engineer to the International Space Station (ISS). Veteran Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin will command Expedition 15 on the ISS, while flight engineer Oleg Kotov will serve as Soyuz commander for the upcoming flight.

Yurchikhin and Kotov will join NASA astronaut Sunita Williams on the ISS, who will continue to work until her return aboard a space shuttle this summer. The three Soyuz crew members have been training in Star City, Russia, at the Yuri Gagarin Space Training Center, along with Hungarian-born American space tourist Charles Simonyi.

Simonyi plans to conduct scientific experiments in orbit. For his medical experiments he will carry an instrument developed in Hungary to study the effects of radiation on humans. The 15th crew to fly to the space station passed the qualifying examination with top marks. Kotov told journalists that Simonyi is well prepared for the flight.

During his pre-flight preparations Simonyi made many friends among space scientists and astronauts. "I invited some of the instructors from Star City to show me the materials and see what the instructions are like, and it turned out that I enjoyed so much," he says.

Bertalan Farkas, the first Hungarian astronaut, accompanied Simonyi to his training in Russia. "I have met Mr. Simonyi several times and I felt that he has the very same thoughts we had before our flight – that this is the highlight of his life, something incomprehensible and he would do anything for it," Farkas says.

Simonyi is not only a computer engineer and aviator, but also an active philanthropist. His funds support the arts, science and libraries. He grew up in an academic environment. His father, a university professor, had an extensive library.

"Not just textbooks but –for example – the Great Soviet Encyclopedia in 50 volumes, which is a fantastic work. We also had the Children's Encyclopedia in 10 volumes, also very interesting," the space tourist says.

Because of his attachment to the arts and literature, Simonyi will carry books to the ISS, saying libraries should be everywhere where humans are. Besides Goethe's Faust, he plans to take The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by science fiction writer Robert A. Heinlein. The book seems an appropriate choice, since U.S. companies are planning to take private citizens around the moon in this decade. Simonyi told the media that he would also be taking a 43-year-old computer tape with him to the space station.

"I have a good budget to take things with me, books and other things, in terms of a weight budget,” he says. “But I just would like to mention, I am taking a computer tape for the Russian computer Ural 2 that I was programming in 1964. I still keep the paper in my safe and I am taking one of those paper tapes with me to remind me where it all started."

The 58-year-old software engineer, a co-founder of Microsoft Corporation, now heads Intentional Software Corporation. His company works on a new encoding software that will operate in the same way that people think, revolutionizing programming.

After eight days on the ISS, the space tourist is scheduled to return to Earth on the Soyuz spaceship on April 19th with Michael Lopez-Alegria, the current U.S. Commander of the ISS, and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin.