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Thursday, 25 April, 2002, 13:43 GMT 14:43 UK
Space tourist lifts off
Rocket (AP)
Mark Shuttleworth begins his holiday in space
The first African citizen in space and the world's second paying guest in orbit has blasted off from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The South African internet millionaire Mark Shuttleworth is heading for a short stay at the International Space Station (ISS).

His 10-day trip has reportedly cost him $20m (14m) - a figure similar to that paid by the first orbital tourist, America's Dennis Tito.

Mark Shuttleworth (AFP)
Mark Shuttleworth waves to the crowd
Mr Shuttleworth's Soyuz-TM34 rocket lifted clear of the launch pad at 0626 GMT and reached orbit eight minutes later.

"Everything was fine. The crew is feeling fine," said Vladimir Solovyov, chief of flights to the Russian segment of the ISS, shortly after lift-off.

The launch was carried live on South African television.

South African President Thabo Mbeki said Mr Shuttleworth was a courageous pioneer for South Africa and his continent, Africa.

Mr Mbeki said in a statement: "Past competition between nations has given way to co-operation, and our own Mark Shuttleworth and South Africa as a whole are proud beneficiaries of this endeavour, and of the goodwill of the Russian government and space research authorities."

American agreement

Mr Shuttleworth is travelling with Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gidzenko, the mission commander, and Italian flight engineer Roberto Vittori.

Their primary task is to replace the vehicle on the ISS that would act as a "lifeboat" if there were ever to be a catastrophic problem on the platform.

International Space Station (ISS)
The mission will replace the emergency rescue vehicle of the ISS
One Soyuz ship is always docked to the station and the ships are replaced every six months or so.

Mark Shuttleworth - who is the first African to go into space - has paid the cash-strapped Russian space agency for his ticket.

The millionaire has had to undergo extensive training for his trip. He has even learnt Russian to aid communication with mission controllers in Moscow, Russia.

Unlike Dennis Tito, he flies with the blessing of the American space agency (Nasa), which has now warmed to the idea of civilians going to the orbital outpost.

Nasa has agreed guidelines with its international partners on how tourists should be handled.

"I am absolutely delighted," Mr Tito said. "I'm delighted not only for Mark but for other people who will be able to also go up on these taxi missions with the co-operation of Nasa."

Queue forming

Mr Shuttleworth will be allowed to use space station laptops for e-mail after he arrives on Saturday and will have limited use of US communication systems to beam down video and photographs.

He plans also to carry out a variety of science experiments.

The Soyuz craft transporting Mr Shuttleworth and his two colleagues is expected to dock with the ISS on Saturday at 0757 GMT.

The queue for the next tourist in space after the South African is already forming.

Twenty-three-year-old Lance Bass of the pop group 'N Sync has declared his interest. So too has Lori Garver, a 40-year-old former Nasa official who is seeking sponsors to cover the cost of the trip.

The BBC's Caroline Wyatt
"His family could hardly bare to watch the launch"
Dennis Tito, first space tourist
"It was the greatest experience I've ever had in my life"
See also:

12 Dec 01 | Sci/Tech
Nasa makes space tourism U-turn
01 Feb 02 | Sci/Tech
Nasa outlines space tourist criteria
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