A Russian-made Soyuz rocket carrying two Russian cosmonauts and a U.S. "space tourist" to the International Space Station blasted off late Saturday from its launch pad in Kazakhstan.
The craft willbe takingcommander Fyodor Yurchikhin, flight engineer Oleg Kotov and Charles Simonyi, a Hungarian-born billionaire software engineer, toward a Monday rendezvous with the space station.
Simonyi, 58, is the fifth civilian to travel in space.His 13-day tripis costing him a reported $25 million US. The price tag included physical training and Russian language instruction over the past six months.
Martha Stewart, a friend of Simonyi, spent the final hours before the launch taking a ride aboard another mode of transport commonly seen around the gritty Baikonur space port on the barren steppes of Kazakhstan — a camel.
On Friday, Stewart shared a private moment with the billionaire — though only through a plate glass window, to protect him and his crewmates from germs.
"He's in excellent spirits," Stewart, 65, told the Associated Press. "He's very fit and very well-trained."
Simonyi, who now runs his own company, made his fortune while working at Microsoft, where he developed some of its most profitable programs, such as Word and Excel.