U.S. 'space tourist' blasts off aboard Soyuz
Sunday, October 2, 2005 at 06:19 JST
BAIKONUR, Kazakhstan — A Soyuz rocket blasted off from the Baikonur space center in Kazakhstan Saturday, taking American "space tourist" Greg Olsen and his fellow astronauts, a Russian and another American, off towards the International Space Station.
The rocket climbed faultlessly away from the Kazakh steppes carrying the Soyuz TMA-7 capsule and its fee-paying and professional crew.
Ten minutes later the capsule was placed in orbit, Russian mission control said.
On Friday, 59-year-old grandfather Olsen confessed to a few pre-launch nerves ahead of his $20 million trip, the fulfillment of months of tough preparation.
Olsen was accompanied by Russian cosmonaut Valery Tokarev and U.S. astronaut William McArthur on the trip to the ISS, where they will arrive on Monday, after a period adjusting to conditions.
Two other "space tourists" have preceded Olsen in what is becoming a profitable sideline for the Russian space program; American Dennis Tito in 2001 and South African Mark Shuttleworth in 2002.
Despite the hefty price-tag, Olsen can expect few creature comforts aboard the Soyuz, a low-frills workhorse.
He has also insisted there is a work component to his sojourn, as he plans to test out equipment developed by his company, a New Jersey-based firm that makes electronic sensors for military and civilian use.
After eight days in the ISS, he will leave his two crewmates and head back to earth with the space station's current occupants, Russian Sergei Krikalyov and American John Phillips.
Their capsule is due to bump down on the Kazakh steppe on Oct 11. Predicting the precise spot has in the past proved a hit-or-miss affair.
Olsen's family — three sisters, his daughter and grandson — were among the hundreds who witnessed the take-off. (Wire reports)
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