U.S. software developer set to become world's fifth space tourist

Decades before helping to write the computer programs that led to Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel, Charles Simonyi learned the basics of programming on a clunky Soviet-era computer called Ural-2.

Next month, the U.S. billionaire programmer will carry a paper-tape memento from that first computer and put his faith in the heirs to that Soviet-era technology when he blasts into space aboard a Soyuz rocket to become the world's fifth space tourist.

"I will take one of those paper tapes with me to remind me where it all started," Simonyi told reporters at Russia's Star City cosmonaut preparation center Thursday.

Simonyi's skill at computers and his work in helping to develop the world's most commonly used word processing and spreadsheet programs earned him enough money to spare more than US$20 million to become the world's fifth "space tourist," set to blast off early next month.

Simonyi, 58, will travel to the international space station aboard a Soyuz TMA-10 capsule together with Russian cosmonauts Fyodor Yurchikhin and Oleg Kotov and return to Earth 11 days later with its current crew - Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin and Spanish-born U.S. astronaut Miguel Lopez-Alegria.

U.S. astronaut Sunita Williams is expected to remain on board the station until June, when she is replaced by Clayton Anderson.

Since beginning training at Star City in October, Simonyi, like the other "space tourists" before him, has had to learn to walk and breathe in a cumbersome space suit, use special gas masks, practice helicopter rescues in case of a water landing and other tasks.

The hardest thing of all, he said, has been spinning in a high-speed rotating chair to help train against dizziness in space - along with learning some Russian. Now that he is done training, he says he is sure the trip will go without a hitch, reports AP.

"I am nervous about public appearances and press conferences, but I think that about the flight I am not nervous at all," the soft-spoken Simonyi said. "I've learned about the system and the more I learn, the more sure I am about the backups ... and I think it's perfectly safe."

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