Report: Bill Gates Ponders Orbital Flight, Cosmonaut Says
The world's fifth space tourist Charles Simonyi (bottom center) and the joint space station crews of Expeditions 14 and 15 share smiles after speaking with reporters on April 10, 2007. Clockwise from top left are: Expedition 14 commander Michael Lopez-Alegria, Expedition 14/15 flight engineer Sunita Williams, Expedition 14 flight engineer Mikhail Tyurin, Expedition 15 commander Fyodor Yurchikhin, Simonyi and Expedition 15 flight engineer Oleg Kotov.
Credit: NASA TV.

American billionaire and Microsoft mogul Bill Gates is eyeing the possibility of his own orbital spaceflight, according to the next commander of the International Space Station (ISS) and Russian news reports.

Russia's Interfax News Agency reported Wednesday that ISS Expedition 15 commander Fyodor Yurchikhin, a Russian Federal Space Agency cosmonaut, and U.S space tourist Charles Simonyi discussed Gates' interest in orbital spaceflight from their perch aboard the space station.

"Charles Simonyi told us that Bill Gates plans to conquer space," Interfax quoted Yurchikhin as saying during a Russian news conference today. "Perhaps some of us will find himself in a company with the Microsoft head in orbit some day."

Simonyi, 58, is paying an estimated $20 million to $25 million for a 13-day trek to the ISS under an agreement between Russia's Federal Space Agency and the Virginia-based firm Space Adventures. He is documenting the spaceflight flight via his personal Web site: www.charlesinspace.com.

Space Adventures has brokered orbital flights for Simonyi and four other private spaceflyers since 2001, and is currently the only firm to arrange ISS-bound trips for non-professional astronauts.

Space Adventures spokesperson Stacey Tearne told SPACE.com that the firm has not yet been contacted by Gates about a possible orbital spaceflight, but the company does have its next candidate in mind.

"We will be announcing an identity of our next orbital client," Tearne said, adding the announcement could come within the next eight weeks.

The firm has secured seats aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft for private spaceflights in 2008 and 2009, Tearne said.

A billionaire in his own right, the Hungary-born Simonyi is a former Microsoft software developer and co-founder of Intentional Software Corp. He is an experienced aircraft pilot and has harbored a lifelong interest in space exploration.

"It's wonderful that a person first devotes himself entirely to business, making an image, reputation and money, and then easily conquers space," Interfax quoted Yurchikhin as saying Wednesday. "It's different for us. We first conquer space and then think about what we'll do next."

Simonyi is spending about 11 days aboard the ISS while Yurchikhin and Expedition 15 flight engineer Oleg Kotov relieve the station's Expedition 14 commander Michael Lopez-Alegria and flight engineer Mikhail Tyurin. A third Expedition 14 astronaut, NASA spaceflyer Sunita Williams, has joined the Expedition 15 cosmonauts for at least part of their six-month mission.

Simonyi and the Expedition 15 crew launched towards the ISS on April 7 aboard their Soyuz TMA-10 spacecraft and docked at the orbital laboratory two days later. He will perform a series of experiments for international space agencies, speak with students via HAM radio and enjoy his time in orbit before returning to Earth with the Expedition 14 crew on April 20.