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Billionaire's Soyuz spaceship lands in new home

Ted Huetter / Museum of Flight

Software billionaire Charles Simonyi peeks inside the Soyuz spacecraft he purchased and is now lending to the Museum of Flight in Seattle. The Soyuz TMA-14, which Simonyi rode into space in 2009, was shipped from Russia and was unpacked at the museum on Friday.

A Russian Soyuz spacecraft that carried a billionaire into orbit — and ended up being purchased by the billionaire — was settled into its new home in Seattle's Museum of Flight on Friday after a whirlwind intercontinental trip.

Software executive Charles Simonyi was on hand for the arrival of the Soyuz TMA-14 descent module, which took him into space along with a NASA astronaut and Russian cosmonaut in March 2009. That launch marked Simonyi's second trip to the International Space Station, for which he paid an estimated $35 million.

Simonyi rode back down to Earth on a different three-seat Soyuz at the end of his 13-day space trip. The TMA-14 remained docked to the station until the next departure, six months later. After it landed, Simonyi had the opportunity to buy the spacecraft from the Russians, and he took it. Although the purchase price was not disclosed, it was probably more than $1 million and less than the $3 million that Simonyi donated to the Museum of Flight for its new Space Gallery.

The Soyuz was crated up and flown to Chicago on a Russian transport plane, then loaded onto a truck for the 2½-day drive to Seattle, museum curator Dan Hagedorn told me. "It made a record transit out here," he said.

In a statement issued by the museum, Simonyi said he hoped the exhibit "will inspire the next generation of space explorers."

Ted Huetter / Museum of Flight

The Soyuz TMA-14 sits on its shipping pallet inside the Museum of Flight's Charles Simonyi Space Gallery.

Ted Huetter / Museum of Flight

The Soyuz spacecraft is designed to be operated by the commander in the center seat of the three-seat descent module, as you can see from this interior view of the Soyuz TMA-14.

Ted Huetter / Museum of Flight

Software executive Charles Simonyi shakes hands with Dan Hagedorn, curator of the Museum of Flight, marking the formal acceptance of Simonyi's loan of the Soyuz to the Seattle museum. The video below, from The Seattle Times, provides a 360-degree view of the Soyuz.

As I noted in December, when the Space Gallery opened its doors, this isn't the first slightly used Soyuz capsule to be purchased by a passenger: An earlier spaceflight participant, New Jersey inventor/entrepreneur Greg Olsen, also bought his Soyuz and had it put on display at New York's Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum. Another one of Simonyi's space acquisitions may be more precedent-setting: a working space toilet from Russia.

Shuttle mockup on the way
Eventually, the space toilet and the Soyuz will be joined in the 15,500-square-foot Charles Simonyi Space Gallery by the museum's piece de resistance: a full-scale mockup of the space shuttle's fuselage. Astronauts at Johnson Space Center used the full-fuselage trainer to familiarize themselves with the shuttle's interior, and when the shuttle fleet was retired, NASA awarded the 120-foot-long mockup to the Museum of Flight.

The shuttle stand-in is due to be shipped up to Seattle in pieces, starting in May. "It'll be coming in on the massive Super Guppy, which is going to be an event in itself," Hagedorn said. "We think by the end of July it'll be fully assembled."

Visitors will be able to walk through the mockup's cargo bay, but access to the crew compartment and the cockpit will be provided only "on a very limited basis" because the quarters are so tight, Hagedorn said. Despite those limits, visitors will almost certainly be able to go places they could never go in the shuttles that flew in space, which will be put on display at museums in Florida, California and "the other Washington."

Hagedorn, who is 65 years old, sounded like a kid as he talked about the Soyuz and the full-fuselage trainer. "They're the cat's meow," he said. "I tell people I have the best job in the world."

More about space artifacts:

Simonyi is the founder of Intentional Software. Microsoft, where Simonyi used to work, is a partner along with NBC Universal in the msnbc.com joint venture. I helped prepare a mission pamphlet for Simonyi's first spaceflight in 2007 as a freelance project.

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