Friends in High Places: Martha Stewart at Russian Launch

The Domestic Diva Picks Orbital Menu for Astrotourist Charles Simonyi, Developer of Microsoft Word

By NED POTTER

April 7, 2007 —

Charles Simonyi isn't a household name. He quietly made his fortune developing word-processing software for a little start-up called Microsoft.

Once you've made your first billion, though, life gets more interesting. Simonyi lifted off Saturday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, riding in a Russian Soyuz spacecraft with two professional cosmonauts.

Among those watching from the bleachers was an old friend of his. She made -- and lost some of -- her fortune somewhat more publicly. Her name is Martha Stewart.

'Domestic Diva' and 'First Nerd in Space'

Space Adventures Inc., the company that brokered Simonyi's trip, has not commented, other than to confirm that Stewart went to the bleak steppes of Central Asia.

Baikonur is a remote place, about three hours by plane from Moscow. Russia has been launching cosmonauts from there since 1961, using the same launch pad from which Yuri Gagarin left to become the first human being in space. The accommodations -- if you'll forgive us -- are a bit better than what you'll find, say, at a minimum-security federal penitentiary in West Virginia.

Stewart and Simonyi are said to have known each other for about a decade. Oh, there were rumors in the tabloids of a romance -- the Globe went so far as to (inaccurately) report in 2005 that they were getting married -- but since then things have sounded a bit more domestic.

No Chardonnay Onboard

Simonyi says on his Web site, www.charlesinspace.com, that Stewart, the home-hospitality diva, has chosen the menu for a gourmet meal that he's taken along as a treat for his crewmates.

He, along with cosmonauts Fyodor Yurchikhin and Oleg Kotov, is on a mission to the International Space Station, more than 200 miles out in orbit, to join American astronauts Michael Lopez-Alegria and Suni Williams, and cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin. The six of them will be together on April 12 -- the anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's flight -- which is celebrated in Russia as Cosmonauts' Day.

"We are going to have a party. I am bringing lots of special food," said Simonyi at a preflight news conference.

Stewart's feast for the space flyers includes quail roasted in Madeira wine, duck breast confit with capers, shredded chicken parmentier, apple fondant pieces, rice pudding with candied fruit and semolina cake with dried apricots.

By the way, Simonyi does say he's doing some experiments for the European Space Agency during his flight. He's scheduled to be in orbit for about 13 days. The primary purpose of the flight is for Yurchikhin and Kotov, Simonyi's crewmates at liftoff, to relieve Lopez-Alegria and Tyurin, who have been onboard the space station since September.

Simonyi, 68, is listed as No. 374 on the Forbes 400 list of wealthiest Americans, with a net worth of about $1 billion. He will be the first billionaire in space; the four "spaceflight participants" who preceded him, starting with Dennis Tito in 2001, counted their fortunes in the hundreds of millions.

The flight is costing Simonyi a small fraction of his nest egg; Space Adventures does not correct reporters who say the cost of a seat is $20 million.

Born in Hungary, Simonyi began to play with Russian-made computers before coming to the United States in 1968. He has joked about being the "first nerd in space." He worked for Microsoft from 1981 to 2002.

He does, by the way, have friends other than Stewart. "I am in contact with Bill and he is very happy that I am doing this," he said at a briefing.

"Bill," of course, would be Bill Gates, his old boss.