American billionaire Charles Simonyi is gearing up for hissecond trip to space as a paying civilian.
Set to launch Thursday at 7:49 a.m. EDT (1149 GMT) on aRussian Soyuz rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, Simonyi willbecome the firsttwo-time space tourist. He is to ride along with the International SpaceStation (ISS)'s new Expedition 19 crewmembers, NASA astronaut Michael Barrattand Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka.
Simonyi paid about $35 million to the Russian Federal SpaceAgency, through the U.S. firm Space Adventures, for his13-day trip to the orbiting laboratory. He plans to conduct scientificexperiments, take pictures of Earth and talk to students around the world viaHAM Radio. He said he hopes to accomplish even more than he did during hisfirst trip in 2007.
"The efficiency of working in space is just increasedso much by having had the prior experience," Simonyi told SPACE.com ina recent interview. "It's a little bit like riding a bicycle. When you getto space it?s a different environment. Weightlessness has all kinds of effectson how you work and how you feel. It's much more efficient to do it the secondtime."
Simonyi made his fortune as a computer software executive,working for Microsoft and later founding his own company, the IntentionalSoftware Corp. He said he's been a space enthusiast his whole life, and evenrepresented his native Hungary as a Junior Cosmonaut at age 13, when he won atrip to Moscow to meet one of the first cosmonauts. He is an avid pilot and haslogged more than 2,000 hours of flying time.
One big change between Simonyi's upcoming flight and hislast is that this time he'll be leaving behind his wife, Lisa Persdotter, whomhe married last year.
"I'm very happy that my wife supports me in this,"he said. "It just makes it that much more precious."
Simonyi will be thefirst repeat customer for Vienna, Va.-based Space Adventures, which beganorganizing space missions for private citizens in 2001.
"I think he's going to continue to work towards achievingthe objectives he laid out originally, but he's going to go a little more indepth," Eric Anderson, Space Adventures president, told SPACE.com. "It'slike seeing a movie for the second time, or going back to a city you?ve visitedonce before, and knowing what to do."
Simonyi paid an extra $5 million to be part of SpaceAdventures' Orbital Missions Explorers Circle, an elite clubthat allowed him to skip ahead of others on the waiting list for trips tospace.
During his mission, Simonyi plans to blog about hisexperiences on a daily basis at his Web site www.charlesinspace.com.
He will be visiting a much-changed space station, comparedto the relatively smaller ISS he stayed on in 2007. Since that trip, the hugeJapanese Kibo lab module, the European Columbus module, and final sets of solararrays - the last of which were unfurled last week by shuttle Discoveryastronauts - among other things, have been added to the orbiting outpost.Simonyi said he's looking forward to seeing the station again in all its glory.
"It's such an unexpected jewel in the emptiness ofspace," he said. "It?s a bit theatrical in its shape, its appearanceand colors."
If Simonyi is unable to fly at the last minute, entrepreneurEsther Dyson could fill in. Dyson, daughter of eminent physicist FreemanDyson, paid $3 million to train as Simonyi's backup, and hopes to travel to spaceeventually.
Simonyi?s second spaceflight comes on the heels of NASA?s shuttleDiscovery mission to complete the space station?s power grid.Commanded by veteran spaceflyer Lee Archambault, Discovery?s crew is due toundock from the station on Wednesday and return to Earth Saturday to complete a13-day construction flight to the orbiting laboratory.
SPACE.com will provide full coverage of Simonyi?s secondspace tourist flight and the Expedition 19 mission with reporter ClaraMoskowitz and senior editor Tariq Malik in New York. Clickhere for mission updates and SPACE.com's live NASA TV video feed.
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