US tourist joins new ISS crew for second trip into space
Moscow - US software billionaire Charles Simonyi became the world's first two-time space tourist as the 19th mission streaked to the International Space Station (ISS) on Thursday.
Mission commander cosmonaut Gennady Padalka and NASA astronaut Michael Barratt joined Simonyi in the cramped Soyuz capsule for the two-day flight to dock with the space station on Saturday.
The crew blasted off punctually at 1149 GMT from Russia's Baikonur cosmodrome on the Kazakh steppes.
The Hungarian-born Simonyi, who was one of the pioneers of Microsoft before going into business for himself, paid 35 million dollars for this visit into space, up from the 25 million he spent for his 2007 ride.
Russia's space tourism partnership with US company Space Adventures has been a welcome boost in funding its space programme since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
But Russia's space agency said this week it is to suspend space tourism temporarily as it will become the only space programme in operation after NASA in the US halts its shuttle programme and the ISS crew goes from three to six in May.
After docking, Simonyi will orbit for 10-days aboard the ISS before returning to earth with US astronaut Michael Fincke and Russian flight engineer Yury Lonchakov on April