US space tourist Richard Garriott gives a thumbs-up after donning his space suit at Baikonur cosmodrome October 12, 2008. [Agencies]
US video game magnate Richard Garriott headed into space aboard a Russian rocket yesterday watched by his father, a NASA astronaut who went into space at the height of the Cold War.
The Russian Soyuz TMA-13 spacecraft lifted off in clear weather from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on the Kazakh steppes just after 1:00 pm local time.
A video game developer from Texas, Garriott paid $35 million to fly into space alongside US astronaut Michael Fincke and Russian cosmonaut Yury Lonchakov.
Garriott's father, Owen, watched the blast off through binoculars on an observation platform and Garriott's girlfriend, Kelly Miller, burst into tears. "I am very happy for him. It is one of the things he really wanted to do," Miller said as others opened champagne to celebrate the successful launch.
"I can see he is really enjoying it like a little kid in the candy shop," Miller said.
Space officials said the Soyuz rocket had reached orbit safely and would dock with the International Space Station (ISS) in about two days.
"He made it, he made it into orbit. It is marvellous," said Owen Garriott, a physicist who was selected as an astronaut by NASA for his scientific background. He spent 60 days in space in 1973 and another ten days in 1983.
After 10 days in space Garriott will return to Earth with the ISS's former crew aboard a Soyuz re-entry vehicle, a three-person capsule which has malfunctioned on its last two flights.
In April, a Soyuz capsule landed 420 km off course after explosive bolts failed to detonate before re-entry, sending the craft into a steep descent.
Last year, a Soyuz capsule carrying Malaysia's first astronaut also made a so-called "ballistic" landing, similarly blamed on faulty bolts.