(Corrects name of Russian cosmonaut from Tyurkin to Tyurin in final paragraph.) By Olesya Dmitracova
KOROLYOV, Russia (Reuters) - U.S. space tourist Charles Simonyi arrived at the International Space Station (ISS) on Monday and his close friend Martha Stewart immediately told him from mission control: “You are out of this world.”
The capsule carrying Simonyi — a software programmer who paid $25 million for his trip into orbit — and two Russian cosmonauts docked with the ISS two days after lifting off from a Russian launch pad in the Central Asian steppe.
U.S. lifestyle guru Stewart, subject of media speculation that she and Simonyi are to marry, watched the docking on live monitors at Russian mission control outside Moscow. Applause rang out as the capsule locked on to one of the station’s ports.
The new arrivals floated through an airlock and hugged the three crew who have been manning the station for the past six months. Then all six lined up in front of a camera to hear greetings from friends and relatives at mission control over a crackly satellite link-up.
Simonyi, who became a billionaire after helping develop Microsoft’s Word software, was experiencing zero gravity for the first time and at one point floated upside down while his fellow crew stayed upright.
Stewart told him: “Charles, we all think that you are impressive and guess what: you are out of this world.”
He said he had already filled three or four pages of a notebook “recording every moment of this flight”, and said he would post his impressions on his Internet blog.
Simonyi, 58, was born in Hungary and emigrated to the United States where he joined Microsoft when it was a start-up company. He helped develop some of the company’s flagship programmes including Word and Excel and now runs his own firm.
Stewart saw him off into space from the launch-pad in ex-Soviet Kazakhstan and also supplied him with an aluminium hamper of gourmet food to take with him.
Media have reported the two are romantically linked, and there had been speculation the software mogul would propose to her before lift-off.
The menu — an exotic contrast to the usual space station fare — includes quail roasted in wine, duck breast with capers and rice pudding.
Russian space officials said Simonyi planned to share the meal with his colleagues on Thursday before heading back to earth on April 20.
Stewart told Reuters after the satellite link-up: “With each step of this journey, we are relieved, but it’s not over yet. They seem to be in total control and in good health.”
Simonyi arrived at the space station with cosmonauts Fyodor Yurchikhin and Oleg Kotov. On board the ISS they joined NASA astronauts Michael Lopez-Alegria and Sunita Williams, and Russian Mikhail Tyurin.