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US space tourist comes calling on Sunita Williams

india Updated: Apr 10, 2007 13:45 IST
Arun Kumar
Highlight Story

Billionaire American space tourist Charles Simonyi and two new co-tenants have arrived at Indian American astronaut Sunita Williams's home in space on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft.

The capsule carrying Simonyi - a software programmer who paid $25 million for his trip into orbit - and two Russian cosmonauts docked with the International Space Station (ISS) 12:40 am IST on Tuesday, two days after lifting off from a Russian launch pad in the Central Asian steppe.

US lifestyle guru Martha Stewart, a close friend of Simonyi watching the docking on live monitors at Russian mission control outside Moscow, told him, "You are out of this world."

The new arrivals floated through an airlock at 02:00 a.m. IST Tuesday and hugged Williams, ISS commander American Mike Lopez-Alegria and Russian Mikhail Tyurin.

Then all six lined up in front of a camera to hear greetings from friends and relatives at mission control over a crackly satellite link-up.

New astronauts Fyodor Yurchikhin and Oleg Kotov, a medical doctor, starting a six-month tour of duty will join Williams aboard the 220-mile-high orbital outpost as the commander and flight engineer.

Williams arrived at the station aboard the shuttle Discovery in December and is scheduled to remain until mid to late summer, according to US space agency NASA.

Simonyi will return to Earth Apr 20 with Lopez-Alegria and Tyurin who are concluding a seven-month tour of duty aboard the space station.

Simonyi, who became a billionaire after helping develop Microsoft's Word software, was experiencing zero gravity for the first time and at one point floated upside down while his fellow crew stayed upright.

Stewart told him: "Charles, we all think that you are impressive and guess what: you are out of this world."

He said he had already filled three or four pages of a notebook "recording every moment of this flight", and said he would post his impressions on his Internet blog.

With Stewart's guidance, the American prepared a gourmet French meal that he carried aboard the Soyuz to share with his five hosts aboard the station. Simonyi, 58, is the fifth private citizen to pay for the space station flight since 2001.

Born in Hungary, Simonyi migrated to the United States where he joined Microsoft when it was a start-up company. He helped develop some of the company's flagship programmes including Word and Excel and now runs his own firm.

Williams, 41, is a Naval Academy graduate and a Navy commander. She flew helicopters and was a helicopter test pilot before being selected as an astronaut in 1998.

Yurchikhin, 48, is making his second flight into space. He was a member of the shuttle crew which launched to the station aboard Atlantis Oct 7, 2002, with the Starboard 1 Truss. He holds a PhD in economics and was named a cosmonaut-candidate in 1997.

Kotov, 41, is making his first spaceflight. He graduated from the Moscow Medical Academy in 1988, and was named a cosmonaut-candidate in 1996.

Astronaut Clayton Anderson is scheduled to replace Williams as a flight engineer during the next shuttle expedition. Anderson, 48, holds a master's degree in aerospace engineering from Iowa State University.

He was selected as an astronaut in 1998 and will be making his first spaceflight.

The newly docked Soyuz capsule will serve as the lifeboat for US as well as Russian astronauts assigned to live and work aboard the station through late 2007, enabling the fliers to descend to Earth in an emergency.

Following Monday's linkup, the crews of the two spacecraft were scheduled to participate in safety drills to prepare the newcomers for life aboard the outpost.