Charles Simonyi on Paul Allen’s Spaceship: I’ll Go, if the Price is Right

12/13/11Follow @curtwoodward

When Paul Allen and company discussed their vision for a new kind of private space launch on Tuesday, they made a few nods to an audience member who knows something about the subject: Former Microsoft chief software architect Charles Simonyi, the only private citizen to fly in space twice.

While Allen said that he’s planning to wait some time before journeying beyond Earth himself—even on one of his own Stratolaunch vehicles—Simonyi said he’s actually lobbied the Microsoft co-founder to take the leap.

“I’m urging him to take weightless flights,” through parabolic airplane trips that allow passengers to briefly experience zero-gravity. “Do it step by step, that’s how I did it.”

Seats on a spaceflight when Simonyi went were being quoted in the neighborhood of $25 million-$35 million, but the cost now has risen to above $60 million. Asked if he’d fly on a launch from Allen’s new company once it gets up to speed with possible human crews, Simonyi said he’d be game “if my wife agrees and if the price is right.”

“I think it’s very audacious. I think it’s doable,” Simonyi said of Allen’s project. “The people are all within their sphere of competence, and integrating it together, I think, will be a successful project.”

“It’s a whole different (thing) than what I’ve been flying on, which was a legacy vehicle that had practically 50 years of history. It was a second-generation for the soviets, the Soyuz,” he said. “So this is much more advanced, and the training requirements will be minimal compared to the training that I had to go through.”

So, of course it has to be asked: What’s it like to be in space? “It’s an amazing thing,” Simonyi said.

“What was it the first time that one flew on an aircraft, and looking at the fields and the houses and the city from the air? It’s a whole different experience. And space is not unlike that. It’s just that it’s like a super wide-angle lens, and you see so much.

“Things change very fast. Daytime is only 45 minutes, and then you see a fantastic sunrise or sunset, which itself plays out 16 times faster than on Earth because you are doing 16 orbits a day.

“You know, one minute you are over Australia and 15 minutes later you are on the West Coast. You make radio contact from amateur radio, and soon you are talking to somebody—first you are talking to Seattle, and when you finish the conversation, you are in Florida. It’s just amazing.”

Curt Woodward is a senior editor for Xconomy based in Boston. Email: cwoodward@xconomy.com Follow @curtwoodward

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