Former Microsoft engineer now aboard space station

( Seattlepi.nwsource ) - Bellevue billionaire Charles Simonyi and two Russian cosmonauts floated into the International Space Station -- to the earthbound applause of Martha Stewart and others at Russian Mission Control.

Stewart was among Russian and American officials and visitors monitoring the docking at Russian Mission Control, on Moscow's outskirts, as onboard TV cameras showed the Soyuz nearing the station and then jerking to a stop. Stewart is a close friend of Simonyi's, who shelled out $20 million to $25 million to be the world's fifth paying private space traveler.

The Soyuz capsule docked automatically with the ISS, and Simonyi and two Russian cosmonauts floated into the space station about 90 minutes later.

A video linkup at Russian Mission Control in Korolyov, on Moscow's outskirts, showed the three smiling and getting hugs and back slaps from the three-member crew already on the station.

"How did the launch look?" Simonyi asked spectators at Mission Control.

"The launch was beautiful, Charles," Stewart told Simonyi. "I just want to say that we are happy for the safe and beautiful trip, and I want you to know that we all think that you are a true pioneer.

"And guess what, Charles? You are now truly out of this world," she said.

"Martha, it is really an honor to be here on this outpost," Simonyi said.

The Hungarian-born Simonyi then turned upside down -- to the amusement of spectators -- and shared greetings in Hungarian with his brother, Tomas.

The arrival of a new crew is always a happy event, and this time the residents are getting an extra treat -- the gourmet dinner brought by Simonyi.

The menu, including quail marinated in wine, was selected by Stewart, who was also on hand at Baikonur for the rocket's launch Saturday.

Simonyi returns to Earth on April 20, along with Russian Mikhail Tyurin and American astronaut Miguel Lopez-Alegria, who have been on the station since September. The other U.S. astronaut, Sunita Williams, will remain on board with cosmonauts Fyodor Yurchikhin and Oleg Kotov.

The dinner is to be eaten Thursday, which Russia marks as Cosmonauts' Day, the anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's making the first manned space flight in 1961.

Simonyi, 58, lives in Bellevue, where he amassed a fortune through his work with computer software, including helping to develop Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel.

Simonyi was taking with him a sample of the paper computer tapes that he used decades ago when he first learned programming on a bulky Soviet machine called Ural-2.

While at the space station, Simonyi will be conducting a number of experiments, including measuring radiation levels and studying biological organisms inside the lab.

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