The first time just wasn't enough, so billionaire Charles Simonyi is going back to space.
The first two-time space tourist is set to make his second trip to the international space station next week. He plans to launch March 26 aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
As part of a $35 million deal brokered by U.S. firm Space Adventures, Simonyi is paying the Russian Federal Space Agency to ride along with cosmonaut Gennady Padalka and NASA astronaut Michael Barratt, who are set to become the station's new Expedition 19 crew.
Simonyi, a former Microsoft software executive, skipped ahead of others on the waiting list for trips to space by paying an extra $5 million to be part of Space Adventures' Orbital Missions Explorers Circle, an elite club with priority access to flights.
Simonyi is signed up for a 12-day mission to perform research on bone density loss and lower-back pain in space, to work on Earth-observation studies, and to communicate with students and space enthusiasts via Ham radio. Many of his science activities will be collaborations with the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Hungarian Space Office. He plans to blog about the experience at his Web site, www.charlesinspace.com.
"I'm honored to return to the ISS and excited to conduct scientific experiments for the European Space Agency and for other national space organizations," Simonyi said. "I also hope my mission inspires young people all over the world to pursue science and engineering careers."
Simonyi first traveled to space in April 2007 on a 13-day trip to the ISS that made him the fifth person ever to pay for a ticket to the orbiting laboratory.
Born in Hungary, Simonyi has been a space enthusiast for most of his life, and is an avid pilot. He now heads a company he founded, the Intentional Software Corp. He said he hopes his trips to space serve to expand the possibilities for future private space exploration.
"I feel my efforts are helping to open the space frontier to private travel," Simonyi said. "Just like all industries, it takes commitment and investment from a few key organizations and customers in order to open it to a larger market. Each time Space Adventures launches an orbital explorer, like myself, we are one step closer to making this dream a reality for others."