Martha Stewart, the apostle of the cozy and the quaint, came Friday to the bleak space town of Baikonur to watch a billionaire friend blast off for the international space station.
Stewart, who parlayed her vision of gracious living into a business empire, is a longtime friend of Charles Simonyi, a software engineer and developer of Microsoft Word who paid $20-25 million for a 13-day trip to the international space station.
He will lift off Saturday, aboard a Soyuz space capsule with two Russian cosmonauts.
Stewart and Simonyi have been friends for about a decade, and some celebrity-gossip publications have suggested they're romantically linked. The Globe tabloid reported in 2005 that Stewart and Simonyi were set to wed, but rumors of their romantic relationship have dwindled since.
Her arrival in Baikonur inspired wide speculation that the two would announce their engagement before liftoff. A spokeswoman 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 of worn concrete buildings amid the barren, seemingly endless Kazakhstan steppes, would seem extremely low on Stewart's list for an ideal place to announce her betrothal. But she's already made an attempt at sprucing up the space trip.
Stewart chose the menu for a gourmet meal that Simonyi will be taking to the ISS as a treat for his comrades in space. They plan a celebratory feast for April 12, which Russia observes as Cosmonauts' Day.
The menu includes quail roasted in Madiran wine, duck breast confit with capers, shredded chicken parmentier, apple fondant pieces, rice pudding with candied fruit, and semolina cake with dried apricots.
At the space travelers' final news conference, the 58-year-old Simonyi said he had spoken with Gregory Olsen, and Anousheh Ansari — the two most recent space tourists — "and they gave me a lot of advice not to move my head and not to drink too much before the launch."
Simonyi, born in Hungary, now lives in the Seattle area.
He began programming on a bulky Soviet computer called Ural-2 as a teenager in Hungary. He then traveled to Denmark to work as a programmer and moved to the United States in 1968, where he worked at Microsoft developing Microsoft Word and Excel and eventually founded his own software company.
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Simonyi said his friend Microsoft CEO Bill Gates was excited about Simonyi's adventure. "I am in contact with Bill and he is very happy that I am doing this."
While at the space station, Simonyi will be conducting a number of experiments, including measuring radiation levels and studying biological organisms inside the lab. He will also be writing a blog that he hopes will inspire others, especially children, to get interested in space exploration.
"There is an element of hope. We don't quite know what we are going to find, but we have to go and see and find it," Simonyi said.