Rocket soars to station with crew
US woman to lead space outpost
BAIKONUR, Kazakhstan - A Russian spacecraft soared from the Kazakh steppe toward the international space station yesterday carrying a Malaysian, a Russian, and Peggy Whitson, the American who will become the first woman to command the orbital outpost.
The Soyuz-FG rocket lifted off on schedule, rising into a darkening sky over the Russian-operated Baikonur launch facility. It was topped by a spacecraft that is to deliver Whitson, veteran Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko and Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, a Malaysian physician, to the space station tomorrow.
Whitson, of Beaconsfield, Iowa, is making her second trip to the station.
A day before the launch, a Russian space official presented her with a traditional Kazakh whip to "manage her crew."
Sheikh Muszaphar, an orthopedic surgeon, is to spend about 10 days on the station, performing experiments involving diseases and the effects of microgravity and space radiation on cells and genes.
Sheikh Muszaphar is not the first Muslim in space - Saudi Prince Sultan bin Salman joined the crew of the shuttle Discovery in 1985. Nevertheless, Malaysian newspapers yesterday devoted several pages and published special pullouts about the mission.
Whitson and Malenchenko are to replace two of the station's current crew, cosmonauts Fyodor Yurchikhin and Oleg Kotov, who are due to return to Earth on Oct. 21 along with Sheikh Muszaphar.
The expedition commanded by Whitson has "two very critical space walks to do" related to efforts to expand the station, which will have six-member crews starting in 2009, said Steven Lindsey, NASA's chief astronaut.