American Billionaire, Astronauts Share Smiles Aboard Space Station
An American billionaire and five professional astronauts were all smiles Tuesday as they kicked off a nearly two-week changing of the guard activity aboard the International Space Station (ISS).
U.S. entrepreneur Charles Simonyi - the world's fifth space tourist to the ISS - and the station's Expedition 14 and Expedition 15 astronaut crews are spending the first full day of a 11-day crew change operation performing maintenance and hand-over tasks.
Simonyi arrived at the space station on Monday with Expedition 15 commander Fyodor Yurchikhin and flight engineer Oleg Kotov, capping a two-day trek that began with the April 7 launch of their Russia-built Soyuz TMA-10 spacecraft from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
"The lab looks great," Yurchikhin, who last visited the space station during NASA's STS-112 shuttle flight in October 2002. "Everything, every equipment, I think is still in the same place...I am at my home."
Yurchikhin and Kotov are taking control of the ISS from Expedition 14 commander Michael Lopez-Alegria and flight engineer Mikhail Tyurin, who have lived aboard the orbital laboratory since September 2006 and are nearing the end of their seven-month mission. The two cosmonauts will also welcome NASA astronaut Sunita Williams, an Expedition 14 flight engineer, into their crew ranks for the first stage of their orbital mission.
Lopez-Alegria will set a U.S. record for the longest uninterrupted spaceflight when he and Tyurin return to Earth aboard their Soyuz TMA-9 spacecraft on April 20, along with Simonyi, after 214 days in orbit. Their initial six-month mission was extended to one month after a launch date shift for their ISS replacements.
"I was really very happy to stay up here and I kind of really didn't want to go home until just recently," Lopez-Alegria said in the crew conference. "I think seven months is just fine."
Cozy space tourist
For Simonyi, who is paying between $20 million and $25 million for a 13-day spaceflight to the ISS, reaching the orbital laboratory has meant coming to grips with the absence of Earth's ever-present gravitation pull.
"My experience is very positive. I think that weightlessness is fine," Simonyi said from the station's U.S. Destiny laboratory. "It requires adaptation, and the training I got at Star City and Baikonur really helped me."
Simonyi, 58, has carried a lifelong interest in spaceflight from his days representing his native Hungary as a Junior Astronaut at age 13 to his work as a former Microsoft software developer and accomplished pilot. He is documenting his spaceflight via images, videos and a blog on his Web site www.charlesinspace.com, which received 10 million hits on launch day according to spokesperson Susan Hutchinson, who spoke with Simonyi Tuesday during a ground-to-space call.
Hutchinson said more than 950 questions have been submitted to Simonyi's Web site since his launch, one of which asked what the space tourist's greatest surprise and joy has been in his first few days in space.
"I think the greatest joy was arriving at the space station and seen the space station structure for the first time from the inside, " Simonyi said. "It's an unforgettable experience."
Simonyi liked the view of the ISS from inside the Soyuz TMA-10 spacecraft during docking to that of a stage set for an opera, with the twilight casting an odd purple light on the station before the Sun came over the Earth's horizons. But inside, the atmosphere was markedly different, he added.
"Inside, it's a very cozy place," Simonyi said of the space station. "I can see how Fyodor feels like it's home."
- IMAGES: Space Tourist, Expedition 15 Crew Train for Launch
- VIDEO: Space Tourist Charles Simonyi in Zero G!
- Complete International Space Station Mission Coverage
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