There's more to relate on the Simonyi launch - the trip to Baikonur (the launch site in Kazakhstan) and last night's visit to Mission Control in Moscow (I got to bed at 3 am, and now I'm here in London at 11.30 pm Moscow time) - but I just want to respond to the Why can't Charles give his dough to the poor? thread.
Personally, I think what he's doing is just great. Yes, he does have some fairly expensive toys, but this particular mission is something else again. In part, it's the realization of a boyhood dream - the dream of a Hungarian kid who ended up escaping to freedom and becoming a highly respected software writer. He earned it.
But more than that, metaphorically, it's not giving people fish or even teaching them to fish. It's giving them the aspiration to dream and learn science and create something - whether it's fishing rods, artificial fish or even space ships that will let us go to Mars and build and cultivate giant fish ponds. Who knows? But the impact of this trip - beyond a fair amount of money that will support the needy Russian space program and its employees - will be on the imaginations of kids who might be inspired to study science, to exercise so they can qualify as a cosmonaut, to learn something and to find it exciting.
FWIW, I first became seriously aware of Space Adventures a few summers ago in South Africa, when I was with a small group of people including President Thabo Mbeki, listening to #2 private space traveler Mark Shuttleworth narrate a home movie of his trip. There were about 20 to 30 of us "important" people - government types and IT business leaders - and about 60 South African school kids assembled for the occasion - and it was absolutely magical. (That was the *first* time I learned about space toilets, but it continues to fascinate.) The children were rapt and excited; Mark was funny, humble, entrancing.... I'm sure he changed the lives of several of those kids - and that was his intention.
I expect to see Charles do the same - and I hope he'll also talk to some older entrepreneurs at my Flight School workshop! You can see that spirit all over his CharlesInSpace.com website (courtesy of Tim Garrigan, who was also on the tour, working away and posting/streaming new content in real-time).
A numble proposal
So - a little more unsolicited advice to SpaceAdventures: They organized for us a wonderful "Kazakh culture" festival (more on that soon) at which local kids showed off their dancing, singing and gymnastics prowess - and for which I'm sure someone received a nice fee (probably not the kids!).
We also got to hear Greg Olsen - private space traveler #3 - speak. Imagine if there had been a contest for local kids for which there were, say, 40 prizes - each one a chance to hear Greg Olsen along with us, and to ask questions. (Perhaps the contest would be for both science and English proficiency.)
Now, I'm an investor in Space Adventures and a little biased, but that means I also have a little influence on what they do. Like everyone in this commercial space business, they are just a start-up and learning each time they do something. This was the first time they had a Kazakh culture event. I hope next time they'll add a Kazakh science event too.