Charles in space

by Eszter Hargittai on April 7, 2007

with Charles Simonyi Few people with an interest in space travel have the resources to make that dream a reality. In a few minutes, Charles Simonyi will be one of those people. He’s among the few space tourists who’ve paid the $20-$25 million for the experience. He has been chronicling his adventures at, an interesting and informative Web site where users can get answers about the various aspects of his preparation and travel. (You can watch the launch live here or click on the link above to choose your preferred player.)

I had the opportunity to meet Charles Simonyi last October when I was in the Seattle area giving a talk at Microsoft Research. I consider my experience a classic case of cultural capital at work. Both of us having grown up in Budapest – and it turns out just a few blocks from each other, although a few decades apart – likely was not enough of a reason for him to bother responding to my email. Rather, I suspect it was our shared interest in the Hungarian artist Victor Vasarely that prompted him to invite me for a tour of his house. It was super fun, Charles Simonyi has some wonderful works by Vasarely and others, and I very much enjoyed the opportunity to see his collection.

We also took a brief tour of his library in which he has some interesting original documents related to space travel. His passion for the topic is obvious and contagious. I look forward to the updates on his site about this amazing adventure.

In the above picture, I stand next to Charles Simonyi (he’s holding my father’s book The Martians of Science) with a Vasarely sculpture behind us. Photo credit goes to Marc Smith who kindly invited and hosted me on this visit to MSR.



otto 04.07.07 at 5:33 pm

You will stop at nothing to push that book!


Eszter 04.07.07 at 5:50 pm

Hey, if it hadn’t been for my father’s idea that I contact Charles Simonyi it would never have occured to me and I would never have had this fun experience. So I think the book deserves a bit of space on the photo.:)


Jacob Christensen 04.07.07 at 6:57 pm

The Danes want a piece of the action as well. At the tender age of 17 (!) Simonyi was headhunted by Regnecentralen and worked there for a couple of years before moving to the U.S. He’s not the first Dane in space (Christer Fuglesang was Swedish, in case anybody wonder), but if you trust the media it’s almost as good as the real thing.


Eszter 04.07.07 at 7:37 pm

He’s not the first Hungarian in space. Farkas Bertalan (or Bertalan Farkas) claimed that title in 1980. “Farkas” means wolf in Hungarian and boy were there some silly jokes about this back then.


jacob 04.07.07 at 7:42 pm

The article Eszter links to in comment 4 on Farkas Bertalan is a wonderful example of Wikipedia culture: it highlights in the very first line that Bertalan (Farkas? which is his surname?) was not only the first Hungarian in space but the first speaker of Esperanto.


Eszter 04.07.07 at 8:06 pm

Jacob, interesting observation. That said, the first paragraph is incorrect in that it states: “To date he is the only Hungarian who has been to space.” and that, as of a couple of hours ago, is no longer true.:)

And yes, Farkas is his last name/surname/family name. I’ve always known him as “farkasbertalan” so to write his name in reverse is weird and I included the original Hungarian version.

Wooohoo, another thread of mine that gets into the linguistic peculiarities of Hungarian.:-)

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