Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space in 1961 and since then slightly more than 500 people have followed into the next frontier. Of those, only seven were private space citizens. Of those seven, there’s only been one to make a repeat trip – Charles Simonyi.
For Simonyi, the dream of traveling to space began at a young age.
“I got my first book on space when I was 9 – I still have it in my library, it was translated from Russian, written in Soviet style with the title “Battle for Speed,” he told a fan through a Q & A forum on his website CharlesinSpace.com.
Then, at age 13, Simonyi represented Hungary as a junior cosmonaut and won a trip to Moscow to meet Pavel Popovich. While space travel never traveled far from his mind, Simonyi often doubted whether he himself would ever actually travel there. He said, “Space remained very abstract for a long time, something that is beyond reach. I did a lot of daydreaming though. All my English studies were somehow connected with space – magazines, books. I stopped being obsessed with space when I discovered how much fun computers were – and they were real, not just a dream.”
But while space started as just a dream, seven years ago today, it became a reality. In 2007, Simonyi became the world’s fifth space tourist and only the second Hungarian in space, launching to the International Space Station for a 10-day mission with Space Adventures.
“You know, every part had its highlights, and they just kept coming and coming,” Simonyi said. “Arriving at the space station, for example. I knew that that would be magic, and it was beyond my wildest dreams.”
For Simonyi, a dream fulfilled wasn’t a dream complete. He made history in 2009 – flying for a second time to the ISS and becoming the first person with Space Adventures to travel to space twice.
As we celebrate Simonyi’s space missions, we look back on his goals to be more than just a tourist. For both missions, Simonyi worked to advance civilian space flight, assist space station research and involve the world’s youth in the science of space travel. He is convinced that one day, humans will travel and live comfortably in space, and remains today the only person to make the journey twice.