New York — U.S. entrepreneur Charles Simonyi has a brand new suit, and it comes with a pretty sweet ride.
The Hungary-born American software developer is ecstatic about his new Russian-built Sokol spacesuit, which he will wear during his planned April 7 launch towards the international space station (ISS).
“Just being in my own spacesuit that I will be able to keep after the flight was really an incredible experience,” Simonyi, 58, said Feb. 18 as he headed from Moscow to Russia’s Star City cosmonaut training center to complete his preflight training.
Simonyi is paying more than $20 million to visit the ISS under a deal brokered with the Russian Federal Space Agency by Space Adventures of Vienna, Va. He will become the fifth paying visitor to the ISS when he launches aboard a Russian-built Soyuz TMA-10 spacecraft with two professional cosmonauts — part of the station’s Expedition 15 crew — on a 10-day spaceflight to the orbital laboratory.
He is documenting his spaceflight on his Web site, www.charlesinspace.com, with blogs, images, videos and a recently added children’s section — dubbed Kids’ Space — to share his ISS-bound experience.
“I have to say that my hopes are more than fulfilled, both in terms of the training and in terms of what I can communicate,” Simonyi, a former Microsoft software developer and co-founder of Intentional Software Corp, told Space News in a telephone interview.
Reaching space has been a lifelong ambition for Simonyi, an experienced aircraft pilot who as a 13-year-old represented his native Hungary as a Junior Cosmonaut on a trip to Moscow in 1963.
“It has been an amazing journey,” said Simonyi, who plans to participate in a series of biomedical experiments during his upcoming spaceflight.
Simonyi’s return to Star City follows a successful round of winter survival training in which he and other cosmonauts tested their wits and learned the Russian equivalent of “Mayday, Mayday” (Terpim bedstvye, or “We are suffering a disaster,” he writes).
“They brought us into the forest where we had to live for two days and nights using only equipment that we found in the spacecraft such as parachutes, nylon and parachute lines and seat liners,” Simonyi said.
Simonyi also spent two hours tied fast to the customized seat liner while clad in his spacesuit, and is gearing up to test the spacesuit in a vacuum chamber to measure its integrity.
“It will be an interesting experience,” Simonyi said of the test. “If anything goes wrong, it will be a disaster.”
But Simonyi remains steadfast in what he deems the most challenging chore of preflight training: taking a spin on a revolving chair designed to help prepare future spaceflyers for the initial space sickness experienced in a weightless environment.
“It was just unpleasant,” he told reporters Feb. 18 . “I will probably have to do more of it to train myself against space sickness.”
Simonyi said he plans to perform additional weightlessness training aboard a Russian aircraft and participate in a series of integrated simulations to rehearse in-flight activities.
A high point in Simonyi’s preflight training came from the guidance he’s received from Bertalan Farkas, a cosmonaut who became Hungary’s first spaceflyer in 1980 during an eight-day Soyuz mission.
“We turned out to be about the same age and we grew up at the same time and now he’s helping me tremendously with the preparations for the spaceflight,” Simonyi said.
Simonyi also is looking ahead to after his coming spaceflight, when he hopes to continue to share his experiences — not to mention his Sokol spacesuit — to help bolster interest and support in private human spaceflight.
“I think that it will definitely be on loan to some museum,” Simonyi said of his spacesuit. “At the same time, I’d like to retain it for its sentimental value and, from time to time, try it on.”