This story was updated at 3:56 a.m. EDT.
American space tourist Richard Garriott, the son of a former NASA astronaut, rocketed into orbit early Sunday aboard a Russian spacecraft alongside two professional spaceflyers to become the first second-generation American astronaut to launch toward the International Space Station.
Garriott, a 47-year-old computer video game pioneer, blasted off from the Central Asian spaceport of Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 3:01 a.m. EDT (0701 GMT) aboard a Soyuz TMA-13 spacecraft ferrying new station crewmembers Michael Fincke and Yury Lonchakov to their orbital home. It was early afternoon at the launch site.
"Today, my dream of following in my father's footsteps to explore new frontiers is being realized," Garriott said of his father, retired NASA scientist-astronaut Owen Garriott, in a statement released after launch. "It's with honor and appreciation that I launch on my greatest adventure yet, and step into a role assumed by only five private individuals before me."
Garriott is paying $30 million for a 10-day trip to the space station under an agreement between Russia's Federal Space Agency and the Vienna, Va.-based firm Space Adventures. He is the sixth paying visitor to the space station.
Owen Garriott, 77, watched his son launch spaceward, and is serving as chief scientist for his the private spaceflight. The elder Garriott flew to the American space station Skylab in 1973 and aboard the shuttle Columbia 10 years later, but has not counseled his spaceflying son to hold back on his mission.
"He wants to charge full speed ahead," Owen Garriott told SPACE.com of his son, who has a packed schedule of science experiments, education events and Earth observation planned for the flight.
The Soyuz TMA-13 spacecraft carrying Garriott, Fincke and Lonchakov is due to arrive at the International Space Station on Tuesday at 4:32 a.m. EDT (0832 GMT).
They will have to make do without the space station's master bathroom, a Russian-built commode that failed for the second time this year last Thursday. Station astronauts were advised to use the toilets aboard their Soyuz spacecraft until it can be repaired.
Fincke and Lonchakov are beginning a six-month mission to the space station as the core of the outpost's new Expedition 18 crew. Fincke is making his second station flight for NASA and in command of Expedition 18, with Lonchakov of Russia serving as flight engineer. Lonchakov is making his third spaceflight and will command the Soyuz trips to and from the station under the call sign "Titan."
The two astronauts will replace the station's current core crew, Expedition 17 commander Sergei Volkov and flight engineer Oleg Kononenko of Russia, which is due to return to Earth with Garriott on Oct. 23.
"I feel well prepared for this flight, and have complete faith in my crew mates, our beautiful rocket, and the huge number of people it takes to launch our Soyuz and operate the ISS," Garriott wrote on his Web site before launch, thanking his friends and family for their support. "I wish I could share this experience with each of you, in the way I have had the opportunity to experience it."
By coincidence, Volkov — like Garriott — is also a second-generation spaceflyer. His father is famed Russian cosmonaut and veteran space station flyer Alexander Volkov.
A third member of the Expedition 18 crew, NASA astronaut Greg Chamitoff, is already aboard the space station as an Expedition 17 flight engineer. He will stay on to join Fincke and Lonchakov until his own relief arrives in November during the first of two planned NASA space shuttle missions to deliver new life support, exercise and other equipment that to prepare the orbiting laboratory for larger, six-person crews.
One Russian spacewalk and about 98 physical, biological or educational experiments for NASA, Russia, Europe and Japan are planned for the mission.
Fincke, meanwhile, made a bit of space history today as the first American astronaut to launch twice aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft.
"I love the Soyuz and I have complete faith and trust in our Russian partners," Fincke said in a NASA interview.
The last two three-segment Soyuz vehicles to return from the space station experienced module separation glitches that ended in off-target landings that subjected their crews to higher stress loads. Russian engineers tracked the problem to the station's space environment near a specific explosive bolt on the Soyuz.
In addition to Garriott's father, Space Adventures' next space tourist to fly Charles Simonyi — in training for his second paid spaceflight in March 2009 — also expected to watch today's Soyuz launch. Google co-founder Sergey Brin, who has put a $5 million down payment for a future Space Adventures flight, was also on hand for the liftoff, according to wire reports.
"I will return to our earth in a few weeks, with a vast array of photographs, and a lifetime of new stories," Garriott wrote in his farewell. "I look forward to sharing them with you!"
NASA is broadcasting the Expedition 18 crew's flight to the International Space Station live on NASA TV. Click here for SPACE.com's NASA TV feed and space station mission updates.
Richard Garriott is chronicling his spaceflight training and mission at his personal Web site: www.richardinspace.com.