Elite Club Lets Space Tourist Cut to Front of Line

Space tourist Charles Simonyi trains inside a Soyuz spacecraft simulator before his first flight of April 2007. Simonyi launched on a second orbital mission in 2009, becoming the only two-time private space explorer.
Space tourist Charles Simonyi trains inside a Soyuz spacecraft simulator before his first flight of April 2007. Simonyi launched on a second orbital mission in 2009, becoming the only two-time private space explorer. (Image credit: Space Adventures)

Americanbillionaire Charles Simonyi snagged his history-making second space touristtrip to the International Space Station next year thanks to an elite club thatgives its members first dibs on private spaceflight seats.

Simonyi,60, is payingabout $35 million to launch to the space station in spring 2009 aboard aRussian Soyuz spacecraft on a spaceflight that will come two years after hisfirst $25 million flight. He?s flying again under a deal between Russia?sFederal Space Agency and the Vienna, Va.-based firm Space Adventures.

It wasthrough Space Adventures? Orbital Missions Explorers Circle program thatSimonyi nabbed his secondtrip to space. The elite six-person club requires a $5 million deposit andgives its members first pick at new space tourist seats as they becomeavailable, though it does depend on the order in which they signed up, SpaceAdventures officials told SPACE.com.

Simonyi saidhe was second in line after Googleco-founder Sergey Brin, who announced his intention to fly in space in Junebut passed on the open seat next spring.

?I?m verythankful for this opportunity that Space Adventures has presented to me for thespring 2009 seat,? Simonyi told reporters in a Monday teleconference, addingthat he joined the Explorers Circle earlier this summer. ?There were others whowere interested, but I was able to secure it through this circle.?

SpaceAdventures is the only firm currently offering tickets to orbit and theInternational Space Station. Among other space-themed thrills, the company offersorbital spaceflights aboard Russian spacecraft with the option for a spacewalkfor about $15 million. To date, no private space tourists have performed aspacewalk since they became available in 2006 and Simonyi doesn?t plan topursue one.

?I decidedagainst doing a spacewalk,? Simonyi said, adding that the physical demands andextensive training time required made it infeasible. ?I don?t think I have thetime and frankly, I?m not enough of an athlete to undertake that.?

Simonyisaid he will watch firsthand as Space Adventure?s next ticket holder, Americancomputer game developer Richard Garriott, launches into orbit on Oct. 12 at3:03 a.m. EDT (0703 GMT) aboard a Russian Soyuz TMA-13 spacecraft from theCentral Asian spaceport of Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. That particularSoyuz spacecraft, Simonyi added, will be his trip home next year.

?I?mlooking forward to see the crew that I?m coming down with and a launch isalways an exciting event,? Simonyi said. ?It?s quite a bit different than lookingat it from the inside and I think that will be an interesting comparison.?

A returnto orbit

Simonyilast flew to the space station in April 2007 on a record-setting 13-dayspaceflight that made him the fifth person ever to pay for a ticket to theorbiting laboratory.

Heperformed a series of experiments while chroniclinghis experience via video, audio and text messages on his Web sitecharlesinspace.com, and expects to do the same for his second spaceflight.Reaching out to the public to support interest in science education and spaceexploration are vital, he added.

?Theexperience of spaceflight is so unique and so amazing,? Simonyi said. ?I reallywant to be able to absorb it and experience it at a different level that only asecond experience would allow.?

A native ofHungary, Simonyi is a former Microsoft software developer and co-founder ofIntentional Software Corp. He is an avid pilot and said before his firstspaceflight that reaching space was a lifelong dream. When he was 13 years old,he represented Hungary as a Junior Astronaut during a trip to Moscow.

?I amecstatic that Dr. Simonyi would choose to fly again and become a repeatcustomer,? said Eric Anderson, president and chief executive of SpaceAdventures, told reporters.

After thismonth?s flight by Garriott and Simonyi?s launch next year, Space Adventures isplanning to launch two private spaceflyers into orbit in 2011 in what will bethe first completely privately funded Soyuz mission to the space station.

Meanwhile, thefirm will turn its attention to Garriott?s launch on Sunday. He will blast off alongsidetwo professional astronauts to replace station crewmembers currently in space.

Garriott,the son of retired NASA astronaut Owen Garriot, will be the firstsecond-generation American spaceflyer when he blasts off and has a packed slateof science experiments, observations and education events on tap for hismission.

He willreturn to Earth on Oct. 24 (EDT) with returning Russian cosmonauts SergeiVolkov - the world?s first second generation spaceflyer - and Oleg Kononenko. Volkov,the station?s commander, and flight engineer Kononenko are completing asix-month mission to the station.


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Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of Space.com and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became Space.com's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining Space.com, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at Space.com and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.