Charles Simonyi, Software Giant Turned Space Tourist, Talks Technology and Exploration at UW

10/2/09Follow @gthuang

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involving airflow that sucks waste through a funnel into a small bucket. After you brush your teeth, you can use a tiny strip of tissue to absorb all the weightless water. Simonyi said sleeping in weightlessness feels great to him, and the cold space food from a can is “quite tasty, especially if you’re hungry.”

—Kids from Earth ask the strangest questions. Simonyi had a chat from space over ham radio with a class of young students from Cambridge, UK. I caught one question on the list: “Could a bear eat marmalade sandwiches on the ISS?” Must be a British thing.

—When you touch down in the Kazakhstan desert, keep your mouth shut. Not because of the locals, but because you might bite your tongue on impact, which occurs at about 25 mph. The re-entry process for the Soyuz capsule went smoothly; it involves two parachutes, heat shields, pressurization—and some steely nerves.

By the end, it sounded like a good (if unlikely) place to escape the rigors of modern Earthly life. In fact, back in February, Simonyi said he couldn’t bring his Kindle aboard the space station because it’s not officially qualified—the risk is that the battery of an unknown device could cause a fire. (Maybe that’s when we’ll know the Kindle is here to stay—when it becomes certified for space use. Jeff Bezos, a space buff himself, is probably working on this right now.)

In chatting with the audience, Simonyi closed with some provocative thoughts about space exploration. For one thing, he thinks we should push robotic exploration of space much more. “Robots are always better at doing science that has nothing to do with humans,” he said. But still, he added, it’s his hope that eventually space tourism will become cheaper and more like an everyday activity, the way air travel and computers have come to enrich our modern lives.

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

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