Two Russian cosmonauts and a U.S. billionaire bringing a gourmet meal arrived at the international space station Tuesday — to a warm welcome from current crewmen and the earthbound applause of Martha Stewart.
The lifestyle guru was among Russian and American officials and visitors monitoring the docking at Russian Mission Control, on Moscow's outskirts, as onboard TV cameras showed the Soyuz nearing the station and then jerking to a stop. Stewart is a friend of Charles Simonyi, the American who shelled out $20-25 million to be the world's fifth paying private space traveler.
The Soyuz capsule docked automatically with the ISS and Simonyi and two Russian cosmonauts floated into the space station about 90 minutes later.
A video linkup at Russian Mission Control in Korolyov, on Moscow's outskirts, showed the three smiling and getting hugs and backslaps from the three-member crew already on the station.
"How did the launch look?" Simonyi asked spectators at Mission Control.
"The launch was beautiful, Charles," Stewart told Simonyi. "I just want to say that we are happy for the safe and beautiful trip and I want you to know that we all think that you are a true pioneer.
"And guess what, Charles? You are now truly out of this world," she said.
"Martha, it is really an honor to be here at this outpost," Simonyi said.
Simonyi has brought books for the space station's small library, and an extra treat for his shipmates: a gourmet dinner. The meal is to be eaten on Thursday, which Russia marks as Cosmonauts Day, the anniversary of Yuri Gagarin making the first human spaceflight in 1961.
The menu, including quail marinated in wine, was selected by Stewart, who was also on hand at Baikonur for the rocket’s launch Saturday.
Simonyi returns to Earth on April 20, along with Russian Mikhail Tyurin and the American astronaut Miguel Lopez-Alegria, who have been on the station since September. The other U.S. astronaut, Sunita Williams, will remain on board with cosmonauts Fyodor Yurchikhin and Oleg Kotov.
Simonyi, 58, was born in Hungary but now lives in the United States, where he amassed a fortune through his work with computer software, including helping to develop Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel. (MSNBC.com is a joint venture involving Microsoft as well as NBC Universal.)
Simonyi was bringing with him a sample of the paper computer tapes that he used decades ago when he first learned programming on a bulky Soviet machine called Ural-2.
While at the space station, Simonyi will be conducting a number of experiments, including measuring radiation levels and studying biological organisms inside the lab.