When it opens this June, the new gallery will house a Soyuz capsule in which Simonyi returned to Earth for the second time, given to the museum by Simonyi on a long-term loan. Also in the gallery will be the NASA Full Fuselage Trainer, a full-scale wingless Space Shuttle replica used to train NASA astronauts.
At the dedication event, Simonyi talked with GeekWire about the new exhibit and his memories of being in that Soyuz capsule.
Why was this project important to you personally?
Simonyi: I think that orbital spaceflight is still a very rare experience. Only 500 people have had the privilege of flying in space and orbiting the Earth. And I think with this privilege comes responsibility to share the experience, through my website, CharlesInSpace.com, and a book that I am writing.
I think this is just one aspect of sharing that experience — through tangible artifacts. And I’m really very grateful that the Museum of Flight will be able to take care of these artifacts and display them properly, so they can be enjoyed to the fullest.
One of those artifacts you’re very intimately familiar with — the Soyuz re-entry module. What was that like to be inside that? When people visit this exhibit later on, how will you describe to them what it felt like to be coming down in that module?
Simonyi: I found it a very cozy experience. I had the fortune of flying in four different Soyuz spacecraft. Up and down twice. Really coziness is the best way I can explain it. 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.
That’s fascinating, because the word I would imagine would be scary.
Simonyi: Right. It might be scary if you don’t know what’s happening. Today, because it’s such a new experience, you need to go through the simulations, and you need to go through the training so that you get used to the idea.
And you don’t get frightened when the parachute jerks — you are happy that the parachute jerks. You would get frightened if the parachute did not jerk. … You are still traveling at Mach 2 and there’s a tremendous jerk that is pulling on the spacecraft, and you are tossed around quite a bit, and that can be pretty scary, unless you know that it should be that way.
What are your thoughts on the new era of commercial, private spaceflight by non-governmental agencies, by private corporations?
Simonyi: Well, it’s terrific. I think that the sooner we do that, the better. That will really do two things. First of all, it makes it available for a much larger number of people. And second, new technologies and new approaches will come into play.
Are you done going up?
Simonyi: Yes, unfortunately, for orbital flights. For suborbital flights, I might be able to do it. Certainly I would like to take my daughter on a weightless flight, which is by itself a fantastic experience.