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The BBC's Jacky Rowland in Moscow reports
"The first space tourist heads for the stars"
 real 56k's Yuri Karach
"So far it has been a total success"
 real 56k

Nasa spokesman John Ira Petty
"We'd expect him not to be involved in any of the operations of the station"
 real 28k

Saturday, 28 April, 2001, 17:51 GMT 18:51 UK
First space tourist feeling 'great'
Dennis Tito and cosmonaut Talgat Musabayev
Dennis Tito (right) in confident mood
The first space tourist is heading for the International Space Station 385 kilometres (240 miles) above the Earth after a successful blast-off from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Shortly after 60-year-old American businessman Dennis Tito began his historic trip, Russia announced plans were already under way to send a second tourist into space.

Soyuz rocket blasting off
The launch went ahead on schedule

The Russian Soyuz rocket carrying Mr Tito and two cosmonauts is due to dock with the International Space Station (ISS) on Monday.

But the operation could be delayed as Nasa technicians still struggle to correct a computer problem with a giant robot arm that is preventing the American shuttle, Endeavour, from undocking from the ISS.

Feeling great

The Soyuz rocket went into orbit around the Earth nine minutes after take-off.

Dennis Tito (centre) with cosmonauts Talgat Musabaev, top, and Yuri Baturin
A farewell wave as they enter the Soyuz craft
Television pictures showed Mr Tito and cosmonauts Talgat Musabayev and Yury Baturin looking relaxed.

When Mr Tito - wearing a white spacesuit decorated with an American flag on his shoulder - was asked how he felt by ground control he replied in Russian: "Khorosho" - great.

Money needed

Mr Tito is reported to have paid the Russians $20m for the privilege of being the first space tourist. And it was only in the days before take-off that Nasa finally lifted objections to his trip, having expressed fears that his presence could jeapordise the safety of the ISS.

ISS robot arm Canada 2
The robot arm still holds its huge cargo

The money is desperately needed by the Russian Space Agency - its budget is only a twentieth of that of Nasa.

The head of the agency, Yuri Koptev, said on Saturday that negotiations with a second tourist were "under way".

Mr Koptev would not say who the person was, although the American newspaper USA Today identified the man as the Oscar-winning film director James Cameron.

Computer failures

The Soyuz docking is likely to be delayed if the problems with ISS's new robot arm are not resolved by Sunday.

Endeavour, seen from the space station
Endeavour may still be docked at the ISS
The Endeavour shuttle, which carried the billion-dollar robot arm to the ISS, is due to take away the packaging crate that the arm came in. But the ISS's main computers are failing to control the arm. And Nasa is reluctant for Endeavour to leave without the crate.

Although the Soyuz rocket could dock alongside Endeavour, the space between the two vehicles would only be about six metres (20 feet). That would put the craft "uncomfortably close" and could cause problems with radio interference.

The main task of the eight-day Soyuz mission is to replace the Soyuz escape craft docked to the ISS for a new one, as its service lifetime expires at the end of the month.

'Political problems'

It was not until last Tuesday that the ISS consortium - which includes Russia, Canada, the US, Europe and Japan - granted an exemption to allow Mr Tito to participate.

Russia says Mr Tito, a former rocket engineer, has received the equivalent of a professional cosmonaut's training.

Mr Tito himself told reporters on Friday that "the training is tough, and it was made more difficult by political problems".

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See also:

27 Apr 01 | Sci/Tech
Profile: Tito the spaceman
27 Apr 01 | Sci/Tech
Nasa extends shuttle mission
24 Apr 01 | Sci/Tech
Space tourist gets go-ahead
22 Apr 01 | Sci/Tech
Shuttle astronauts armed and ready
02 Nov 00 | Sci/Tech
Crew enters historic home
27 Apr 01 | Sci/Tech
Who rules the roost on ISS?
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