Tuesday, April 17, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Students quiz Medina space tourist

Seattle Times Eastside bureau

Hear the conversation

Simonyi's session can be downloaded from his Web site at

Whizzing 220 miles above the Earth, Charles Simonyi's voice had just a trace of static as he used a ham radio to answer the questions of 20 Redmond students.

For a 9-½-minute window on Monday, students from Redmond High School and Redmond Junior High talked to the billionaire-turned-space traveler aboard the international space station, asking him questions ranging from his sleep patterns in space to his thoughts while looking at Earth.

"What was the first thing you did in zero gravity?" Michael McCondochie, a junior, wanted to know.

Not much at first. Zero gravity can make one feel sick, Simonyi replied. "But now I can do flips, and I feel right at home in weightlessness," he said.

"What changes have you noticed in the shape or functioning of your body?" asked Chelsea Kim, a ninth-grader.

His head has gotten bloated, and his legs have gotten thinner, Simonyi said.

"What is your sleep pattern" aboard the space station? Akshika Patel, a junior, wanted to know.

Simonyi said he had just awakened from a eight-hour sleep. "But I was jet-lagged at first," he said.

About 100 students and faculty gathered in the high school's library as school ended to listen in on the call from space. Students submitted more than 160 questions, which were culled to 20, said Paul Osborne, the teacher who helped organize the event.

Redmond High was one of three schools chosen nationwide to have an audio session with Simonyi. The fifth private space traveler so far, Simonyi paid at least $20 million to be a guest aboard the Russian rocket that launched April 7.

Simonyi talked with students using an amateur, or ham, radio, which the space station uses as a basic communication system with Earth. The radio signal was sent to a ground station in Belgium, where it was picked up by Verizon and handled like a telephone conference call.

Astronauts aboard the space station sometimes use the ham radio for recreation, chatting with any radio operators listening in, said Will Marchant, from the space-science lab at the University of California, Berkeley, who moderated the call.

"You've shared a moment in history," Marchant told the students over the speaker phone.

Kristin Wilcox, a senior, asked Simonyi what he did during the two days it took to get to the space station.

The time went by faster than he expected, Simonyi said, as the crew was busy correcting the capsule's course.

Other questions: Can you get dizzy in space? Answer: Yes.

What does an astronaut do for fun? Answer: Watch DVDs on a laptop.

And which time zone is the space station on? Answer: Greenwich Mean Time.

Simonyi, a Medina resident who amassed a fortune as a researcher for Microsoft, is scheduled to return to Earth on Friday. Last week, he talked to students at Fairborn High School in Ohio, and today he is scheduled for a session with Cedar Point Elementary School in Virginia.

Monday's conversation left some wondering if the school would get similar opportunities in the future.

"If Bill Gates goes up, maybe he'll talk to us, too," said Max Rose, astronomy and biology teacher at Redmond High. "Or maybe next time, Charles will take us up there for a field trip. That would be even cooler."

Rachel Tuinstra: 206-515-5637 or

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company


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