A Soyuz TMA-10 space capsule bearing billionaire Microsoft pioneer Charles Simonyi soared toward the International Space Station (ISS) yesterday, making him the world's fifth space tourist.
Kazakhstan's black sky lit up with orange and yellow flames as the rocket took off on schedule late on Saturday, carrying Simonyi toward the ISS along with Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov and Fyodor Yurchikhin.
Observers exploded into cries of joy and applause when officials confirmed the craft had successfully entered orbit a few minutes later.
Simonyi's spokeswoman, Susan Hutchinson, said she was "on the verge of tears."
"The power in the ignition of those engines, the feeling in the ground gave everybody such a sense of what spaceride is, and so we viewed with awe and great satisfaction," she said.
"He had a grin on his face, they were doing really well," she told a friend, then cried out: "Wasn't that a thrill!"
Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov, who attended the launch, smiled and clapped.
The flight, which cost Simonyi US$25 million and is scheduled to dock at the ISS on Monday, is far more than a pleasure trip.
Between snapping shots of Earth, Simonyi will be conducting medical experiments for the European Space Agency and testing high-definition cameras for the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency.
He plans to detail his experiences on board in a Web log at www.charlesinspace.com.
He will also be preparing a gourmet space dinner for his crewmates, likely with some pointers from US homemaking guru Martha Stewart, his partner, who came to watch the launch.
The super-rich lovebirds went without a rumored pre-launch engagement announcement, but Stewart screamed and clapped as Simonyi left the space training center before take-off, banging her hands on the window of his bus and chanting: "Charles! Charles! Charles!"
The dinner Simonyi will prepare in honor of Russian Cosmonauts' Day on April 12 should be a welcome change.
"One of those dishes has a wine sauce in French style," Simonyi said. "I think that the team will be very happy to eat something different after all that time in space."
Simonyi is scheduled to return to Earth on April 20 together with the current ISS team, while the two Russian cosmonauts will stay on for a 190-day shift in orbit.
Space Adventures, the company that organized the trips, plans to expand its offerings next year to include a US$100 million trip around the moon and a US$100,000 budget option: five minutes of sub-orbital space flight.