Billionaire Aims to be ‘First Nerd in Space.’

When former Microsoft developer Charles Simonyi goes into orbit next March, he’s not merely aiming to be the first guy from Forbes magazine’s billionaire list to fly in space. He also plans to lay claim to the title of “first nerd in space.”

Simonyi is going where three rich men (and one rich woman) have gone before, but this time the price tag is a bit higher. The standard quote of $20 million is going up to $25 million, and Simonyi is paying a fare somewhere between those two figures.

Although Simonyi has waited a long time for his chance, his biggest claim to fame came as a computer scientist and software engineer rather than a would-be astronaut: He emigrated to the United States in 1968, at the height of the Cold War, and played a huge role in promoting WYSIWYG (“what you see is what you get”) approaches to software design. In 1981, he joined Microsoft and oversaw the development of some of the company’s biggest products, such as Word and Excel. (Microsoft is a partner in the MSNBC.com joint venture.)

Simonyi retired from Microsoft in 2002 and now serves as president and chief executive officer of Intentional Software, based in Bellevue, Wash. He is also a philanthropist, making multimillion-dollar contributions through his Charles Simonyi Fund for Arts and Sciences.

This year, Forbes estimated his net worth at $1 billion, putting him 746th on its list of 793 billionaires around the world. Space Adventures’ past orbital clients — California investment adviser Dennis Tito (2001), South African dot-com tycoon Mark Shuttleworth (2002), New Jersey physicist-businessman Greg Olsen (2005) and Iranian-American venture capitalist Anousheh Ansari (2006) — aren’t on the list.

Although the unmarried Simonyi said he saw himself as the “first nerd in space” — which is a judgment call, to be sure — he does get around. He’s is a licensed pilot with more than 2,000 hours of flight time in planes and helicopters under his belt, and reportedly owns one of the largest private yachts in America.

His educational efforts would be focused on a newly established Web site — CharlesInSpace.com

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