KOROLYOV, Russia – An American billionaire who won a junior cosmonaut contest as a child returned Saturday from a dream voyage to the international space station, riding a Russian capsule to a soft landing on the Kazakh steppe
Charles Simonyi, a 58-year-old native of Hungary who helped design Microsoft Word and Excel, smiled and chatted with rescuers who helped him gingerly out of the Soyuz capsule and appeared energized by his $25 million, two-week trip.
The capsule carrying the space tourist, a Russian cosmonaut and a U.S. astronaut touched down after a more than three-hour return trip from the orbital station.
Simonyi looked delighted after rescuers helped him from the rounded capsule, which lay askew on the bleak grassland, and into a chair covered with fur for warmth. He smiled, grinned broadly and spoke animatedly with members of a support crew who greeted him with hugs and handshakes.
He then bit enthusiastically into a green apple – a traditional offering for space crews touching down in Kazakhstan, which is famous for the tasty fruit.
Asked about his first impressions back on Earth, a smiling Simonyi said in Russian, “The sun is shining, the weather is good,” in footage broadcast on state television. Simonyi had studied Russian in school in his native Hungary and took another language course in preparation for the flight.
Cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin looked pale and tired, but soon managed a smile in a video link with Mission Control. “The first thing I felt on Earth was the smell,” he told the television network.
Spanish-born U.S. astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria, the last out of the capsule, sighed with relief, smiled and talked to the support crew as doctors monitored the men’s vital signs.
Simonyi arrived at the station on April 9 – also courtesy of a Soyuz, which flew into space atop a Russian rocket from the Russian-leased launch facility in Baikonur, Kazakhstan – along with two other cosmonauts, who will remain on the station for about six months.
Simonyi amassed the fortune that made his costly voyage possible through his work with computer software.