Report: Bill Gates Ponders Orbital Flight, Cosmonaut Says

American Billionaire, Astronauts Share Smiles Aboard Space Station
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.
(Image: © NASA TV.)

Americanbillionaire and Microsoft mogul Bill Gates is eyeing the possibility of his ownorbital spaceflight, according to the next commander of the International SpaceStation (ISS) and Russian news reports.

Russia's InterfaxNews Agency reported Wednesday that ISS Expedition 15 commander FyodorYurchikhin, a Russian Federal Space Agency cosmonaut, and U.S space tourist CharlesSimonyi discussed Gates' interest in orbital spaceflight from their perchaboard the space station.

"CharlesSimonyi told us that Bill Gates plans to conquer space," Interfax quotedYurchikhin as saying during a Russian news conference today. "Perhaps some ofus 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 theISS under an agreement between Russia's Federal Space Agency and theVirginia-based firm Space Adventures. He is documenting the spaceflight flightvia his personal Web site: www.charlesinspace.com.

SpaceAdventures has brokered orbital flights for Simonyi and four other privatespaceflyers since 2001, and is currently the only firm to arrange ISS-boundtrips for non-professional astronauts.

SpaceAdventures spokesperson Stacey Tearne told SPACE.com that the firm hasnot yet been contacted by Gates about a possible orbital spaceflight, but thecompany does have its next candidate in mind.

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

The firmhas secured seats aboard Russian Soyuz spacecraft for private spaceflights in2008 and 2009, Tearne said.

Abillionaire in his own right, the Hungary-born Simonyi is a former Microsoftsoftware developer and co-founder of Intentional Software Corp. He is anexperienced aircraft pilot and has harbored a lifelong interest in space exploration.

"It'swonderful that a person first devotes himself entirely to business, making animage, reputation and money, and then easily conquers space," Interfaxquoted Yurchikhin as saying Wednesday. "It's different for us. We first conquerspace and then think about what we'll do next."

Simonyi isspending about 11 days aboard the ISS while Yurchikhinand Expedition 15 flight engineer Oleg Kotov relieve the station'sExpedition 14 commander Michael Lopez-Alegria and flight engineer MikhailTyurin. A third Expedition 14 astronaut, NASA spaceflyer Sunita Williams, hasjoined the Expedition 15 cosmonauts for at least part of their six-monthmission.

Simonyi andthe Expedition 15 crew launched towards the ISS on April 7 aboard their SoyuzTMA-10 spacecraft and dockedat the orbital laboratory two days later. He will perform a series ofexperiments for international space agencies, speak with students via HAM radioand enjoy his time in orbit before returning to Earth with the Expedition 14 crewon April 20.

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