IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Billionaire has spacesuit, will travel

Software entrepreneur Charles Simonyi has a brand new suit, and it comes with a pretty sweet ride ... to the international space station in April.
Simonyi, a former software developer at Microsoft, is seen through the window of a pressure chamber during a training session in Star City near Moscow
Software entrepreneur Charles Simonyi, whose net worth is estimated at more than $1 billion, undergoes a training session in a pressure chamber at Russia's Star City cosmonaut complex on Thursday. Simonyi has paid more than $20 million for a trip to the international space station in April.Sergei Remezov / Reuters
/ Source:

U.S. entrepreneur Charles Simonyi has a brand new suit, and it comes with a pretty sweet ride.

The Hungary-born American software developer is ecstatic about his new Russian-built Sokol spacesuit, a must-have item for his planned April 7 launch toward the international space station.

“Just being in my own spacesuit that I will be able to keep after the flight was really an incredible experience,” Simonyi, 58, said this week as he headed from Moscow to Russia’s Star City cosmonaut training centerto complete his preflight training.

Simonyi is paying more than $20 million to visit the ISS under a deal brokered with the Russian Federal Space Agency by the Virginia-based firm Space Adventures. He will become the fifth paying visitor to the ISS when he launches aboard a Russian-built Soyuz TMA-10 spacecraft with two professional cosmonauts — part of the station’s Expedition 15 crew — on 10-day spaceflight to the orbital laboratory.

He is documenting his spaceflight on his Web site,, with blogs, images, videos and a recently added children’s section — dubbed Kids’ Space — to share his station-bound experience. (Simonyi’s initials Ch. S. personalize his Sokol spacesuit, and apparently can also stand for “clean spacesuit” in Russian, he writes).

“I have to say that my hopes are more than fulfilled, both in terms of the training and in terms of what I can communicate,” Simonyi, a former Microsoft software developer and co-founder of Intentional Software Corp., told in a telephone interview. (Microsoft and NBC Universal are partners in the joint venture.)

Reaching space has been a lifelong ambition for Simonyi, an experienced aircraft pilot who, at age 13, represented his native Hungary as a Junior Cosmonaut on a trip to Moscow in 1963.

“It has been an amazing journey,” said Simonyi, who plans to participate in a series of biomedical experiments during his upcoming spaceflight.

Survival skills
Simonyi is returning to Star City after a successful round of winter survival training, in which he and other cosmonauts tested their wits and learned the Russian equivalent of “Mayday, Mayday” (“Terpim bedstvye,” or “We are suffering a disaster,” he writes).

“They brought us into the forest where we had to live for two days and nights using only equipment that we found in the spacecraft,” Simonyi said, “such as parachutes, nylon and parachute lines and seat liners.”

Simonyi also spent two hours tied fast to the customized seat liner while clad in his spacesuit, and is gearing up to test the spacesuit in a vacuum chamber to measure its integrity.

“It will be an interesting experience,” Simonyi said of the test. “If anything goes wrong, it will be a disaster.”

But Simonyi remains steadfast in what he deems the most challenging chore of preflight training: taking a spin on a revolving chair designed to help prepare future fliers for the initial space sickness experienced in a weightless environment.

“It was just unpleasant,” he told reporters this week. “I will probably have to do more of it to train myself against space sickness.”

Simonyi said he plans to perform additional weightlessness training aboard a Russian aircraft and participate in a series of integrated simulations to rehearse in-flight activities.

Help from Hungary’s first man in space
A high point in Simonyi’s preflight training came from the guidance he’s received from Bertalan Farkas, a cosmonaut who became the first Hungarian in space in 1980 during an eight-day Soyuz mission.

From a launch out of the weeds to a special delivery in orbit, see the best space offerings from January 2014.

“We turned out to be about the same age, and we grew up at the same time, and now he’s helping me tremendously with the preparations for the spaceflight,” Simonyi said.

Simonyi is also looking ahead to after his coming spaceflight, when he hopes to continue to share his experiences — not to mention his Sokol spacesuit — to help bolster interest and support in private human spaceflight.

“I think that it will definitely be on loan to some museum,” Simonyi said of his spacesuit. “At the same time, I’d like to retain it for its sentimental value and, from time to time, try it on.”