A Russian-built rocket carrying a new US-Russian crew and the world's first female space tourist lifted off on Monday and streaked into the cloudless sky over the desolate steppes of Kazakhstan, headed to the international space station.
The Soyuz TMA-9 capsule headed into space less than a day after the US space shuttle Atlantis pulled away from the orbiting station and began its journey back to Earth. It entered orbit about 10 minutes after liftoff, according to Russian space officials monitoring the launch at Mission Control in Korolyov, outside Moscow.
Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin and US astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria were to join German astronaut Thomas Reiter on the station just over 48 hours after blasting off from Baikonur.
Traveling with the new crew was Anousheh Ansari, an Iranian-American telecommunications entrepreneur who has paid a reported USD 20 million to become the fourth private astronaut to take a trip on a Russian spacecraft and visit the station.
"I'm just so happy to be here," she said ebulliently as she entered the rocket today, watched by about a dozen relatives, including her husband and mother, as well as the other crew members' families, space officials and reporters.
Ansari, 40, was due to return to Earth on Sept 29, along with cosmonaut Pavel Vinogradov and astronaut Jeffrey Williams, who have been on the station since April.