This article was updated at 8:28 a.m. ET.
An American billionaire and two professional astronauts launchedinto space early Thursday on a Russian rocket headed to the International SpaceStation.
Space tourist CharlesSimonyi, Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, and NASA astronaut MichaelBarratt lifted off aboard a Soyuz TMA-14 spacecraft at 7:49 a.m. ET (1149 GMT)from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The cloudy, rainy skies of the launchsite did not hinder the flight.
The successful launch makes Simonyi the first civilian everto flyin space twice. For $35 million, paid to the Russian Federal Space Agencythrough the U.S. firm Space Adventures, he is on a 13-day trip to the spacestation and a round-trip ride on Russia's tried and true spacecraft.
"I'm doing well," Simonyi said as the rocket hurtledupward.
The craft reached orbit about nine minutes after launching."Gravity and G-loads are gone, we're in space!" said Padalka, whocommanded the Soyuz flight.
Mission Control bid thespaceflyers farewell and reminded them not to forget to call back during theirsix-month mission. "We'll be in touch," Padalka assured them.
Space station commander MichaelFincke, currently onboard the orbiting laboratory, radioed congratulations tothe newly-launched crew. "We're looking very forward to welcomingthem aboard in just a few days," he said. "It's going to be great to havethem on board. Congratulations on another picture perfect launch."
Simonyi made a similar trip in 2007, but has said there arestill things he wants to accomplish in space.
"Why do people see a movie more than once? It's toenjoy it more thoroughly, to see more details, to do things that weren'tpossible the first time," Simonyi told SPACE.com in a recentinterview.
He has planned a busy schedule of scientific research,educational outreach activities, and photo-taking of Earth. Simonyi, aHungarian native, worked as a software executive at Microsoft before foundinghis own company, the Intentional Software Corp.
During his mission, Simonyi plans to blog daily about hisexperiences at his Web site: www.charlesinspace.com.
Veteran cosmonaut Padalka is set to take up residence on thestation for 200 days as the Expedition19 commander. Barratt, a rookie, will stay for the same term as a flightengineer on the station crew.
The two professionals plan to help prepare the orbitinglaboratory to receive crews of six, expanded from the usual three, startingthis summer.
"We don't see it so much as the population doubling, orjust having less room, so much as finally getting up to the staffing that thestation needs to function like it really should," Barratt told SPACE.combefore the flight. "Everything we use on a day-to-day basis, whether it?sthe pencils or the communications channels, we're just going to have to be abit more careful and make sure that we can share those resources mostefficiently. Hopefully we'll get a lot more productive with the six-personcrew."
The three spaceflyers are set to dock at the space stationSaturday at 9:15 a.m. ET (1315 GMT), a few hours before the space shuttle Discoveryis slated to land in Florida. The shuttle is completing its 13-day STS-119mission to the International Space Station (ISS) to deliver and install a finaltruss segment and solar panel arrays on the orbital outpost.
Discovery also carried up Japanese astronaut Koichi Wakatato begin his three-month stay at the station. Wakata, who will be an Expedition19 flight engineer, is his country's first long-duration spaceflyer. Previousstation resident, NASA astronaut Sandra Magnus, will return home to Earth inWakata's place on the shuttle, capping off a four-month trip.
SPACE.com will provide full coverage of Simonyi's secondspace tourist flight and the Expedition 19 mission with reporter ClaraMoskowitz and senior editor Tariq Malik in New York. Click here for mission updatesand SPACE.com's live NASA TV video feed.
- Video - Expedition 19: Priming ISS for Larger Crew
- New Show - Inside the International Space Station
- Video - Space Tourist Charles Simonyi in Zero G