Stewart came Friday to the bleak space townof Baikonur to say goodbye to Charles Simonyi, a software engineer and developerof Microsoft Word who paid between $20 million and $25 million for a 13-daytrip to the space station.
Simonyi, one of the 400richest Americans according to Forbes Magazine, is to lift off Saturday aboarda Soyuz space capsule with two Russian cosmonauts.
Stewart and Simonyi have been friends forabout a decade, and some celebrity-gossip publications have suggested they'reromantically linked.
Samantha Schabel, aspokeswoman for Stewart, declined to elaborate on the relationship, sayingonly, "They're best friends.''
The founder of MarthaStewart Living Omnimedia Inc., a multimedia empire dedicated tostylish living, Stewart ranks third on Forbes.com's list of "The 20Richest Women in Entertainment,'' with assets of $638 million. In March 2005,she completed a five-month prison term for lying to federal investigators abouta stock sale.
After arriving at thegritty spaceport set in the seemingly endless Kazakh steppes, she shared aprivate moment with Simonyi, 58, through a plate glass window protecting himand his crewmates from germs.
"He's in excellentspirits,'' Stewart, 65, told The Associated Press after theirtete-a-tete. "He's very fit and very well-trained.''
Stewart's arrival in Baikonur inspired widespeculation the two would announce their engagement before liftoff. Aspokeswoman for Space Adventures, the company that arranged Simonyi's trip,declined to comment on her visit, other than to say she would watch the launch.
Baikonur, a collection ofworn concrete buildings, would seem extremely low on Stewart's list for anideal place to announce her betrothal. But she's already made an attempt atsprucing up the space trip.
Stewart chose the menu for a gourmet mealthat Simonyi will be taking to the space station as a treat for his comradesin space. They plan a celebratory feast for April 12, which Russia observes as Cosmonauts' Day.
The menu includes quailroasted in Madiran wine, duck breast confit with capers, shredded chickenparmentier, apple fondant pieces, rice pudding with candied fruit, and semolinacake with dried apricots. It was to be prepared bycelebrity chef Alain Ducasse's consulting and training center, ADF,according to Space Adventures.
Born in Hungary, Simonyi began programming on a bulky Soviet computer called Ural-2 as a teenager.He went to Denmark to work as a programmer and moved to the United States in 1968, where he worked at Microsoft Corp. developing Microsoft Word andExcel and eventually founded his own software company.
Simonyi, who lives in the Seattle area, said at the space travelers' final news conference that his friend Microsoftchairman Bill Gates was excited about the adventure.
"I am in contact with Billand he is very happy that I am doing this,'' Simonyi said.
Simonyi said he had spoken withthe two most recent space tourists, Gregory Olsen and Anousheh Ansari, "andthey gave me a lot of advice not to move my head and not to drink too muchbefore the launch.''
While at the space station,Simonyi will be conducting experiments that include measuring radiation levelsand studying biological organisms. He will also be writing a blog that he hopeswill inspire others, especially children, to get interested in spaceexploration.
"There is an element ofhope. We don't quite know what we are going to find, but we have to go and seeand find it,'' Simonyi said.
- IMAGES: Space Tourist, Expedition 15 Crew Train for Launch
- VIDEO: Space Tourist Charles Simonyi in Zero G!
- Complete International Space Station Mission Coverage