Pair of firsts mark ISS rocket launch
By Nick Coleman, AFPBAIKONUR, Kazakhstan -- A Russian rocket carrying Malaysia’s first astronaut and the woman set to become the first female commander of the International Space Station (ISS) blasted off Wednesday from Baikonur.
October 11, 2007, 12:00 am TWN
A Soyuz rocket carrying Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, Russian cosmonaut Yury Malenchenko and NASA’s Peggy Whitson, thrust into the clear evening sky over the Kazakh steppe on a two-day voyage to the orbiting ISS.
The huge rocket travelled at 26,000 kilometers (16,155 miles) an hour and took just a few minutes to reach orbit. Having shed its empty fuel tanks and entered orbit, the Soyuz capsule was to spend two days travelling to the space station.
On Tuesday, U.S. astronaut Whitson voiced confidence in the voyage, during which she will oversee a major expansion of the ISS, which acts as a platform for international science cooperation and a testing ground for human habitation of space.
At a pre-launch press conference, a member of the Baikonur ground crew jokingly presented Whitson with an ornate Kazakh riding whip “so that in the presence of men they understand that you’re the commander.”
Whitson in turn flourished the whip, but said she hoped she wouldn’t have to use it. he then extolled the value of space travel and its ability to unite people of different cultures.
“One of the special things about the view of the Earth from space is that it is one planet and that it is very beautiful. I think it is a good illustration of the fact that there don’t need to be any wars.”
Muszaphar, meanwhile, said his trip, paid for by the Malaysian government, was a great step for his nation.
“I feel great. I just can’t wait to go up — for the Malaysian people,” Muszaphar told AFP as he headed for the launch pad after being helped into his spacesuit.
The 50-meter (160-foot) rocket adorned with the U.S., Malaysian and Russian flags was earlier raised into position at Baikonur, an arid stretch of the Kazakh steppe dotted with camels and the paraphernalia of 50 years of space flight.