Space Tourist: ISS a Cozy and Complicated Place
American entrepreneur Charles Simonyi, the fifth space tourist to the International Space Station (ISS), describes life aboard the orbital laboratory during a video broadcast on his Web site www.charlesinspace.com. Expedition 15 flight engineer Oleg Kotov floats behind.
Credit: www.charlesinspace.com.

The International Space Station (ISS) is both cozy and complicated according to American billionaire Charles Simonyi, who paying more than $20 million for a trek to the orbital outpost.

Now in his sixth day in space, Simonyi described orbital living as enjoyable yet challenging in a series of audio and video broadcasts posted to his mission-dedicated Web site: www.charlesinspace.com.

“I think the space station is just a fantastic place to live,” Simonyi, 58, said in an April 12 video broadcast. “It’s cozy. It’s complicated. It has been lived in for quite a while.”

The Hungary-born Simonyi, a former Microsoft software developer and co-founder of the firm Intentional Software Corp., is paying between $20 million and $25 million for 13 days in space, 11 of them aboard the ISS, under an agreement between Russia’s Federal Space Agency and the Virginia-based firm Space Adventures.

He launched into orbit on April 7 aboard a Russian-built Soyuz TMA-10 spacecraft with Expedition 15 cosmonauts Fyodor Yurchikhin and Oleg Kotov. The spaceflying trio docked at the station onApril 9 and were greeted by the outpost’s three-astronaut Expedition 14 crew.

“I think it will be an unforgettable experience and I will have great new friends when I get back,” Simonyi told students at Fairborn High School in Fairborn, Ohio Thursday during a HAM radio session.

The seasoned professional astronauts aboard the station have developed their own tricks to perform their daily tasks without losing objects in the weightless environment of space, a skill Simonyi said he is trying to learn. A number of items, including a writing pen, have escaped his grasp and led to some embarrassing moments aboard the ISS, he added.

“The crewmates weren’t very happy, of course, about finding a floating shirt or a floating document or a floating pen,” Simonyi said in a Wednesday radio call to Russian mission control, and displayed a tethered pencil and other supplies in bags secured to his clothing via Velcro.

But learning the intricacies of living in space is one of the joys of his 13-day trek, Simonyi added.

“Even when things are difficult, that’s in a sense fun because you’re learning about,” he said.

Simonyi is due to return to Earth April 20 with the station’s Expedition 14 commander Michael Lopez-Alegria and flight engineer Mikhail Tyurin, who are completing a seven-month trip to the ISS. A third crewmate, NASA astronaut Sunita Williams, is staying aboard to join the Expedition 15 mission.

Space trek busy, and surprising

Simonyi told Fairborn students that despite his lifelong interest in human spaceflight, he did not believe he could make the trip himself until recently.

“My calling was in computers,” Simonyi told the students, adding that he hopes the spaceflight will help encourage youth to pursue science and technology studies. “So this is a new thing for me.”

With a full schedule of science experiments and other activities, Simonyi’s slate has been full for much of his time in orbit.

“I’ve been up five days and I have no free time yet,” he said to a Fairborn student who asked how he spent is off time in orbit. “I’ve been taking notes and looking at the Earth, but later on I might be reading and listening to music.”

Editors for Simonyi’s mission Web site reported that the installation of computer hard drives and science experiments have kept the space tourist busy for much of the week.

Simonyi is participating in a lower back muscle study for the European Space Agency (ESA), mapping the station’s radiation environment for the Federal Space Agency and the Hungarian Space Office, and testing high-definition camera components for the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

In addition to those studies, he will also spend some time today collecting samples of microbes living aboard the space station as part of another ESA experiment, as well as stamp and sign a series of personal effects for friends on Earth, according to his mission flight plan.

Simonyi, answering one of the some 1,000 questions submitted to his Web site in recent days, described the views of planet Earth from space.

“The image of Earth is incredibly blue and there is just lots of water. It’s not as round as I thought it would be. Typically we’re looking straight down and we don’t see much curvature, and it moves very fast,” Simonyi said, adding that it is the stunning brightness of the Sun that he’s found most amazing. “It’s only in the theaters that you can see fantastic light like that.”