Redmond students place reeeeealllly long distance call

Redmond students place reeeeealllly long distance call »Play Video
REDMOND - Just over a week ago, Microsoft Billionaire Charles Simonyi blasted off into space.

He's still aboard the International Space Station as a space tourist, orbiting the Earth.

But Monday afternoon, he took the time to chat with students in Redmond about his journey.

Students submitted 160 questions that were whittled down to 20.
Then, there was a window of 9 minutes, 22 seconds to have a conversation with a man in space.

It started off with scratchy noises and Simonyi's first words of, "You are coming in very faint."

But as the International Space Station zipped forward at 17,500 miles an hour, getting into a position above Belgium, the combination of ham radio and phone connection cleared up.

Redmond Senior Maddison Rosenberg asked the first question.

"What significance does space exploration have for you?" she asked.

"I think space is one of the best things humanity does. To participate in it, even in a small way, I think is a privilege," Simonyi told her.

Simonyi paid $20 million for his privilege. He's the fifth space tourist to buy a ticket to the space station. And he wants to make sure a younger generation learns from his opportunity.

Redmond Junior Michael McCondochie asked, "What was the first thing you did when you reached microgravity?"

Simonyi explained that at first, he didn't do much because in the beginning, a person is prone to get sick.

But he added, "I did let go of my checklist and see it float. But now I can do flips and I feel really at home in weightlessness."

Through other questions, Simonyi told the students you can't see the Great Wall of China from space, but you can see big fires, fields and towns.

"What a beautiful place," he said of the Earth. "It's majestic, it's calm, and it fills me with optimism."

For students, the opportunity flew by. They called out a loud "thank you" but got no response.

Suddenly Simonyi was gone.

The call moderator out of California summed it up.

"Ladies and gentlemen, we've shared a moment of history."

And it was a little hard to take in what they'd just done.

"Not quite," senior Ryan Barker said afterwards. "I'll probably realize in a few years - I got to talk to someone in space. It was an awesome experience."

You can hear the entire conversation between Simonyi and the students on Simonyi's Web site There's a special section called Kids Space.