Rocket launches on space station voyage

BAIKONUR, Kazakhstan -- A Soyuz spacecraft with two Americans and a Russian on board lifted off from Kazakhstan on Sunday for the international space station.

The Soyuz TMA-13 capsule carrying American computer game millionaire Richard Garriott soared into a clear sky atop a Russian rocket as the latest paying space traveler's family watched from a viewing platform. Also aboard were U.S. astronaut Michael Fincke and Russian cosmonaut Yuri Lonchakov.

The rocket lifted off on schedule at 1:01 p.m. local time (3 a.m. ET), sending an orange flare behind it as it streaked upward. The craft entered orbit about 10 minutes later.

"I'm elated, elated," said Richard Garriott's father, Owen, a former U.S. astronaut who is the first American to see his child follow in his footsteps and reach space. "They're in orbit, that's good."

Garriott's mother Eve and his girlfriend, Kelly Miller, shed tears of joy and relief at the successful launch.

"This is cool, this is cool," Miller said.

The Soyuz is to dock Tuesday with the international space station, where Garriott will spend about 10 days conducting experiments and photographing the Earth before returning in a Soyuz capsule with cosmonaut Yuri Volkov, whose father also traveled to space.

Garriott, a Texan who made his fortune designing computer fantasy games, dreamed of space as a child but learned as a youth that he could not become a NASA astronaut because of his poor eyesight. He paid a reported US$30 million for his voyage.

"I'm really happy for him. It's one of the things he's wanted to do most in his life. I spent a lot of time listening to him about when he goes up in space," Miller said.

"He's like a kid in a candy shop," she said. "And I already want him to come back."

Garriott is a board member and investor in Space Adventures Ltd., a U.S.-based company that has organized flights aboard Russian craft for five other millionaires including the first paying space tourist, California businessman Dennis Tito, in 2001.

The most recent paying traveler, billionaire American software engineer Charles Simonyi, also watched the launch and drank champagne with Garriott's family after the craft reached orbit.