April 11, 2007 / 12:16 AM / 12 years ago

U.S. space tourist "blown away" by trip to station

HOUSTON (Reuters) - U.S. space tourist Charles Simonyi said he was “blown away” by his trip to the International Space Station, while astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria said he was ready to go home after nearly seven months on the orbiting outpost.

Spaceflight participant Charles Simonyi (R) of the U.S. talks during a crew conference from the Zvezda Service module after arriving at the International Space Station in this view from NASA TV April 9, 2007. Joining Simonyi in the crew conference are Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov (L), Fyodor Yurchikhin (C) and, back row Expedition 14 crew members (L-R) Michael Lopez-Alegria, Mikhail Tyurin and Sunita Williams. REUTERS/NASA TV (United

In a news conference from space on Tuesday, the software billionaire said the station looked like a theater production when he and two Russian cosmonauts arrived aboard a Russian spacecraft the day before.

“It is amazing how it appears from the blackness of the sky,” Simonyi said. “It was very, very dramatic. It was like a big stage set, a fantastic production of some incredible opera or modern play.”

“That’s what I was referring to when I said I was blown away,” he said.

Simonyi, 58, described the inside of the station in terms his friend, lifestyle maven Martha Stewart, would have appreciated.

“It is a cozy place,” said Simonyi, who was surrounded by five fellow crewmembers while taking questions from reporters at several NASA centers. “It is full of stuff, as you see, it’s full of knickknacks just like a home.”

Stewart attended Simonyi’s launch from Kazakhstan and selected a gourmet meal for him to carry to the station. On Monday, she told him from Russian mission control that he was “out of this world.”

Simonyi, who was born in Hungary and emigrated to the United States where he joined Microsoft as it was starting up, is said to have paid $25 million to the Russian space program to make the trip.

He launched on Saturday with cosmonauts Fyodor Yurchikhin and Oleg Kotov and is set to return to Earth on April 20 with Russian Mikhail Tyurin and Lopez-Alegria.

Lopez-Alegria, along with Tyurin, has been on the station since September and earlier this month broke the U.S. record for longest space mission, with 196 days in space.

By the time he gets back to Earth aboard a Russian Soyuz, he will have been in space 214 days.

“I was really happy to stay here and kind of didn’t want to go home until just recently when the day started approaching,” he said.

“I think seven months is just fine,” said Lopez-Alegria, a 48-year-old U.S. Navy captain.

U.S. astronaut Sunita Williams, who arrived at the station in December, will stay with Yurchikhin and Kotov, possibly until August, which would give her the U.S. record with more than eight months in space.

“I have no problem with staying as long as I need to be up here,” she said.

The record for the longest spaceflight is 438 days, held by Russian cosmonaut Valery Polyakov, who set the mark aboard the Mir space station in 1994-95.

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