You've likely heard about Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson going head-to-head to see who could tickle the very edge of Earth's atmosphere first. But have you heard about the Microsoft employee who traveled to the International Space Station (ISS) in 2007 and 2009? Space tourism's been around for a while, and when it comes to actually penetrating that big black void up there, Bezos and Branson have yet to come close to what Charles Simonyi achieved almost a decade and a half ago.
Simonyi is the guy who brought us Microsoft Office. He built the first versions of it, meaning that every time you whip up a Word doc or battle for esport supremacy in Excel, you have him to thank. He's also a noteworthy space tourist who's traveled to the ISS not once, but twice.
He did so with the help of space tourism company Space Adventures, Inc. He was not only a space tourist, which is what all the Bezos and Branson fuss is about, but he went farther than them for longer than them, almost a decade and a half before them. We should all be recognizing Simonyi and writing odes to him in Word docs right now instead of producing endless pieces on Bezos, the man with enough rice to his name to end world hunger.
One could argue that Bezos' big accomplishment here is that he's not simply creating tourism as a fun little extension of existing government-driven space operations, but instead creating a company dedicated to normalizing space tourism exclusively in the private sector. As Redditor /u/DICKTracey put it: "I beg to differ in terms of accomplishment. Sure [Simonyi] was up there for longer, but this guy paid to go. Branson and Bezos built companies to send them to space. It's like saying buying a plane ticket is more about flight than creating a company to build aeroplanes."
There is another point of view, found in /u/DrakkoZW's succinct reply to that comment: "That sounds like paying for a flight but with extra steps[.]"
The big picture
In some sense, Bezos sort-of, kind-of going to space (or closer thereto than most people ever will, for what that's worth) is less about the actual event and more about what it signifies. The gazillionaire's trip was a ceremonial cutting of the ribbon. It was to celebrate an accomplishment in the background, rather than be an accomplishment in its own right.
Even so, many people are cheering about the event, and so is Bezos himself. "I want to thank every Amazon employee, and every Amazon customer because you guys paid for all this," the Amazon founder said, extending gratitude to all the Amazon warehouse workers who are permanently crippling their bodies lifting heavy materials day in, day out so that their boss can rocket around Earth's atmosphere.
Just remember that when space tourism does eventually go mainstream, neither Bezos nor Branson will have credit for being the true pioneers. They were beaten to the punch by a lot of other people, including the guy who cooked up MS Office.