A Russian Soyuz spaceship carrying the world's first female space tourist and a two-man crew of the International Space Station (ISS) lifted off on Monday from its launch pad in the Kazakh steppe.
Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin, U.S. astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria and Iranian-born American Anousheh Ansari, who will visit the station as a tourist, rode aloft aboard the Soyuz TMA-9 vessel, which streaked skyward after blasting off from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 8:09 a.m. Moscow time (0409 GMT).
The Soyuz capsule entered orbit about 10 minutes after launch, according to the Mission Control outside Moscow. It will dock with the ISS on Wednesday after hurtling two days in space.
Ansari, 40, who runs a telecommunications company in Texas, will conduct a series of blood and muscular experiments for the European Space Agency during her eight-day stay on the orbiting outpost. Previous space tourists reportedly paid about 20 million U.S. dollars for a ride aboard the Soyuz.
Tyurin and Lopez-Alegria will replace Russian cosmonaut Pavel Vinogradov and U.S. astronaut Jeffrey Williams, who have been working on the space station since April. Ansari will return to Earth on Sept. 29 with Vinogradov and Williams.
To make room for the arrival of the Soyuz, the U.S. space shuttle Atlantis undocked from ISS on Sunday after astronauts finished a busy week of construction work of the orbiting outpost.
Atlantis delivered a new integrated truss to the station and its crew used the shuttle and station robotic arms to attach the truss to the station and then conducted three arduous spacewalks in four days to prepare the truss and its solar arrays for operation.
The truss' 73-meter solar arrays will eventually double the station's power capabilities, setting the stage for future expansion.
Atlantis' mission is the first of a series of the shuttle missions that will perform on-orbit construction of the half-finished space station, which depends on U.S. shuttles to ferry large equipment.
U.S. space agency NASA grounded the shuttle fleet for more than two years following the Columbia shuttle disaster, which killed seven astronauts onboard in February 2003.
Russia's manned Soyuz ships and Progress supply ships had been the workhorse for the ISS during the long shutdown of the shuttle fleet, ferrying crews and supplies to keep the station ticking over for more than two years.
After costly safety upgrades, NASA resumed shuttle flight in 2005.