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Fifth 'Space Tourist' Begins Flight to International Space Station

A Russian spacecraft carrying an American space tourist, and a two-man Russian replacement crew has reached orbit, ahead of a rendezvous with the International Space Station.

The Soyuz rocket lifted off late Saturday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. It is scheduled to dock with the space station Monday.

Hungarian-born American billionaire Charles Simonyi is the fifth person to buy a ride to the space station. While aboard the orbiter, he will perform experiments for the European and Japanese space agencies.

Simonyi is due to return to Earth April 20, along with two departing crew members, commander Michael Lopez-Alegria of the United States and Russian flight engineer Mikhail Tyurin, who have been on the space station since September.

The two new Russian crew members, new commander Fyodor Yurchikhin and flight engineer Oleg Kotov, will remain aboard the space station along with a remaining American crew member, flight engineer Sunita Williams, until late this year.

Simonyi paid more than $20 million for his trip to the International Space Station, and trained for his mission in Russia. He helped found computer software giant Microsoft before starting his own software company.

The four previous people to pay Russia millions of dollars for a trip to the space station are Americans Dennis Tito (2001) and Greg Olsen (2005), South African Mark Shuttleworth (2002), and the first woman space tourist, Anousheh Ansari of the United States (2006).

Some information for this report provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.