Russian engineers made last-minute preparations for the Saturday launch of a Soyuz capsule bound for the international space station with two cosmonauts and U.S. billionaire Charles Simonyi aboard.
Simonyi’s friend, lifestyle guru Martha Stewart, spent the final hours before the launch taking a stroll aboard another mode of transport commonly seen around the gritty Baikonur space port in the barren steppes of Kazakhstan — a camel.
On Friday, Stewart shared a private moment with Simonyi — though only through a plate glass window, to protect him and his crewmates from germs.
“He’s in excellent spirits,” Stewart, 65, told The Associated Press. “He’s very fit and very well-trained.”
Stewart’s arrival in Baikonur inspired wide speculation that the two would announce their engagement before liftoff. They have been friends for about a decade, and some celebrity-gossip publications have suggested they’re romantically linked.
A spokeswoman for Space Adventures, the Virginia company that arranged Simonyi’s trip, declined to comment on Stewart’s visit other than to say she would watch the launch.
Simonyi, 58, a billionaire and the developer of Microsoft Word, paid between $20 million and $25 million for a 13-day trip to the orbiting station. He is the fifth paying “space tourist” to make the trip.
On Saturday, as workers fueled the rocket on which the Soyuz TMA-10 capsule sits, Simonyi and his traveling companions — cosmonauts Fyodor Yurchikhin and Oleg Kotov — met with experts and engineers for pressure tests on their space suits and medical tests.
In a posting on the blog he intends to maintain while in orbit, Simonyi said he got a final haircut and a therapeutic massage and watched a traditional showing of a classic Soviet-era war film. There was no mention of Stewart.
Stewart chose the menu for a gourmet meal that Simonyi will be taking to the station as a treat for his comrades in space. They plan a feast on Thursday, celebrated as Cosmonauts’ Day in Russia after Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space on that day in 1961.
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.
Simonyi began programming on a bulky Soviet computer called Ural-2 as a teenager in Hungary. After emigrating to the United States in 1968, he worked at Xerox Corp. and later Microsoft Corp., helping to develop Microsoft Word and Excel before eventually founding his own software company.
While at the space station, Simonyi will be conducting a number of experiments, including measuring radiation levels and studying biological organisms inside the lab.