It just kept getting better and better at Seattle’s Museum of Flight today.
First former, Microsoft engineer Charles Simonyi announced that he would be donating the Soyuz TMA-13 Reentry Module that returned him safely to Earth after his second trip to the International Space Station. He’ll be making the spacecraft available on a long-term loan to be displayed next to the full-fuselage Space Shuttle trainer that will be coming from NASA later this year.
But it turns out that’s just part of Simonyi’s contribution to the cause.
“We are also providing space artifacts, including my space suit and, most importantly, a real working space toilet,” said Simonyi, to big laughter and applause from the assembled crowd.
Hey, who cares about getting a Space Shuttle now that we’ve got a toilet on the way?
In all seriousness, Museum of Flight CEO Doug King explained that the artifact addresses a common question from schoolchildren, about how the astronauts go to the bathroom.
The occassion today was the dedication of the $12 million Space Gallery that will bear Simonyi’s name, slated to open in June. Simonyi, considered the father of Microsoft Word, is providing $3 million in funding.
His donation of the toilet is also a nod to a minor dustup that emerged in the media over whether Simonyi would use the American or Russian toilet when he was at the International Space Station. Here’s how he answered a question on the topic on his Charles in Space educational website at the time.
“I think they are doing an important job of apportioning the contributions of the various partners. Meanwhile on the station life goes on as smoothly as I have ever seen in such a varied group and without unnecessary rules. I use the Russian toilet because it is much closer to where I work and I find it quite a bit more private, too. The American (or as the commander calls it International) toilet is temporarily in the middle of the science lab (properly enclosed) awaiting of the arrival of the next American node.”
Of course, toilet jokes aside, the Soyuz space capsule will be the real attention-getter. Talking with Simonyi before the event today, I asked him to recall what it was like to be inside it on his way back to Earth. He made it clear that he has extremely fond memories of the experience.
“There is really coziness, is the best way I can explain it,” he said. “It’s a feeling of safety, a feeling of being protected, a feeling of comfort, a feeling of being with friends, and being supported by a large team on the ground. It’s an amazing, amazing feeling.”
He didn’t say how much he paid for the Soyuz capsule, but he hinted at the cost during his public remarks, joking about his conversations about the purchase with his wife, Lisa Persdotter.
“We agreed that this purchase would constitute her present to me for my birthday this year, for my anniversary, for Christmas, for my birthday next year, and perhaps even in perpetuity,” he said, to more laughter from the crowd.
The new Charles Simonyi Space Gallery is slated to open in June. A public Space Gallery exhibit preview runs this Saturday Dec. 10, from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., featuring NASA artifacts and other exhibits but not yet the Shuttle trainer or the Soyuz … or the toilet.