U.S. mogul's wife calls time on $60 million space hobby

STAR CITY, Russia (Reuters) - U.S. software mogul Charles Simonyi plans to make history this month by becoming the first tourist to travel to space twice, but after watching him spend $60 million his new wife has decided to clip his wings.

Simonyi, 60, a billionaire who made much of his fortune at U.S. computer software maker Microsoft, is training in Moscow ahead of a March 26 blast-off.

But his 28-year-old Swedish wife, who he married in November, has told him the $35 million space flight would be his last to the International Space Station (ISS).

“I decided to fly before I got engaged and my wife agreed that I would be able to fly just once more, so I cannot fly a third time,” Simonyi told journalists on Thursday at the Star City cosmonaut training camp outside Moscow.

“When you have a family and children you have lots of responsibilities,” said Hungarian-born Simonyi, who led the teams that developed Microsoft’s Word and Excel applications.

Even if Simonyi managed to convince his family to allow him to embark on another two-week trip, he might find it difficult to book a ticket.

Simonyi’s Russian Soyuz space craft is the last of seven scheduled tourist flights to the ISS.

When the ISS crew is increased from three to six later this year there will be no space for tourists, Russia’s space agency has said.

Space Adventures, the US company that markets the ISS trips has said it plans to charter a Soyuz from Russia in 2011 but has not yet announced the exact launch date.

Entrepreneur Charles Simonyi of the U.S. puts on his space suit at the Star City space centre outside Moscow, where he is being tested on his readiness to travel to the International Space Station, March 4, 2009. REUTERS/Sergei Remezov

“I don’t think I will be the last space tourist. I think I might be the last one for a while,” said Simonyi, who paid $25 million for his first trip to space in April 2007.


Visibly excited, Simonyi waved nervously to journalists at the press conference before describing his upcoming trip.

For $35 million, Simonyi will get a sleeping bag in a shared room on the ISS, possibly without a view. “In three dimensions it is very easy to find a corner,” he said.

Food, which is included in the price, will likely include Russian delicacies like tinned perch, curds with nuts and beetroot soup sucked through a straw from a plastic bag, said Michael Barratt, an American astronaut who will travel with Simonyi.

Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka completes the space craft’s three-man crew, who will join three astronauts already on board the ISS.

In between scientific experiments the ISS crew can call home, check their e-mail and watch films, Barratt said.

Simonyi said he will use part of his 10 kilogram baggage allowance to bring his wife’s engagement ring, a soft toy seal, as well as a selection of music that will likely include Bach, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

He expects the highlight of the trip to be the docking of the Soyuz space ship with the ISS, a vast structure that he said appears from nowhere after two days floating in space.

“It is something that is beyond what you can imagine and what you can see in the movies,” he said.

Space Adventures offered to go one step further and allow him to leave the space station for a six-hour space walk for an additional $10 million.

Simonyi politely declined.

“Its not something I would undertake at my age,” he said. “It’s also very expensive.”

Editing by Jon Boyle