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Former Microsoft Nerd Pays Millions to Go to Space

Digital Journal — First he created Microsoft Word and Excel. Now he wants to go for a round trip vacation in space. Is Charles Simonyi the model nerd?

The billionaire software engineer is paying Space Adventures Ltd. close to $25 million US for a ride to the International Space Station in March aboard a Russian spacecraft. He would be the fifth person the company has taken to space.

Simonyi said on Thursday he wanted to make a contribution to civilian space flight and get kids more interested in science. He is speaking from experience: at 13, he won a junior astronaut contest in his native Hungary, and at that young age he met one of the first cosmonauts, Pavel Popovich.

Simonyi’s legacy is legendary for Microsoft observers. Simonyi left Hungary at 17 to study engineering and computer science, later developing two of the world’s most popular software apps, Microsoft Word and Excel.

He left Microsoft in 2002 to found his own company, Intentional Software, in nearby Bellevue, Wash.

But now Simonyi has a chance to get out of the boardroom and into a different kind of office, um, space. Some people may say he’s squandering millions on a joy ride, especially in light of many poverty-stricken nations who would appreciate a $20 million gift. They got a point.

Then again, billionaires have never been known to randomly donate money over their own whimsical recreations. If Simonyi truly wants to fly to space to help educate kids about science, then he should go for it. But most likely, he’s more of a kid than the ones he’s supposedly trying to educate.

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