Former Microsoft Executive Charles Simonyi successfully touched down in Kazakhstan on April 8 after a second trip to the International Space Station, making him the first "space tourist" to complete two successful orbital jaunts.
Simonyi spent 13 days in orbit, and paid $35 million for the privilege. His first trip, in April 2007, cost roughly $20 million. Two other astronauts, flight engineer Yuri Lonchakov and commander Michael Fincke, took the three-hour return trip from the station with Simonyi; their capsule parachuted to the Kazakhstani earth at 3:16 a.m. EDT, according to NASA.
Soon after their landing, a joint recovery team of Russian and NASA personnel reached the site and immediately subjected all three voyagers to medical tests.
Simonyi spearheaded the development of a number of Microsoft applications, including Word and Excel, during the 1980s. He also created the concept of the "revenue bomb."
In 2002, however, he left Microsoft to create Intentional Software, a company devoted to developing software tools based on intentional programming precepts.
Simonyi's second space-trip began on March 26, with the launch of the Soyuz TMA-14 spacecraft from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakstan. It rendezvoused with the International Space Station two days later. Among the crowd seeing him off was Paul Allen, who reportedly opened bottles of champagne, and Simonyi's wife Lisa Persdotter.
According to Space Adventures CEO Eric Anderson, the market for space tourism has been affected by the global economic recession; in interviews, however, both he and others seem optimistic in the industry's long-term prospects.
Reuters quoted a source within Russia's space industry as saying two unidentified space tourists could launch in 2011. Since the destruction of the U.S. space shuttle Columbia in 2003, Russia has taken on the responsibility of transporting personnel and supplies to the station.
While his second space odyssey would suggest a lifelong obsession with traveling beyond the surly bonds of Earth, Simonyi didn't consider venturing into orbit until later in life.
"Everybody's interested in space as a child, I think, but I didn't take it seriously early on," Simonyi said in an interview with Private Air magazine after his first flight. "My calling wasn't space; it was computers. I started thinking about space only once it became practical."
Before the 2007 liftoff, he also consulted some experts for advice.
"I talked to Neil Armstrong and John Glenn," he said in that same interview. "I asked if I should go, and they said, 'By all means.'"