Moscow: The world’s richest man, Bill Gates, is considering a flight into space, a Russian cosmonaut said from the International Space Station Wednesday, citing Gates’ colleague and space tourist Charles Simonyi.
“Charles said that Bill Gates is also preparing to visit space,” cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin told journalists during a video link-up from the space station, broadcast on state television Rossiya.
“So the next time someone will be with Bill Gates. For me this is the biggest surprise of our flight.”
Space Adventures, the US-based company that organises the trips, said it had heard nothing from the Microsoft chairman about a possible flight.
“Space Adventures has had no contact with Bill Gates,” spokeswoman Natalya Dedovets told AFP.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for Russian space agency Roskosmos, Igor Panarin, told AFP that Gates “visited us several months ago at the cosmonaut training centre at Star City” near Moscow.
“However, for now there are no negotiations on taking part in a tourist flight. We have not had any official request from Mr. Gates,” he said. “But if Mr. Gates expressed interest we would help him.”
The first slot for a potential Gates flight would be in 2009, he said.
Simonyi, Yurchikhin and fellow cosmonaut Oleg Kotov docked at the International Space Station on Monday, after a flight that cost the former Microsoft engineer 25 million dollars (19 million euros).
Simonyi is scheduled to return to Earth on April 20 together with the current ISS team -- Russia’s Mikhail Tyurin and American Miguel Lopez-Alegria -- while the two Russian cosmonauts will stay on for a 190-day shift in orbit.
Simonyi, who made his fortune at Microsoft, is the fifth tourist to travel to the ISS, following the United States’ Dennis Tito in 2001 and Greg Olsen in 2005, South Africa’s Mark Shuttleworth in 2002, and a US citizen of Iranian origin, Anousheh Ansari in 2006.
Space Adventures plans to expand its offerings next year to include a 100-million-dollar trip around the moon and a 100,000-dollar budget option: five minutes of sub-orbital space flight.