By MANSUR MIROVALEV
Associated Press Writer
BAIKONUR, Kazakhstan (AP) _ A Russian spacecraft soared from the Kazakh steppe with a crew of three headed for the international space station, including Malaysia's first man in space and an American who is to be the first woman to command the orbital outpost.
The Soyuz-FG rocket lifted off on schedule Wednesday, rising into a darkening sky over the Russian-operated Baikonur launch facility. It was topped by a spacecraft that is to deliver US astronaut Peggy Whitson, veteran Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko and Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, a Malaysian physician, to the space station Friday.
Whitson, of Beaconsfield, Iowa, is making her second trip to the station and is to become its first female commander. Sheikh Muszaphar, a 35-year-old 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.
Applause broke out among space officials and other onlookers after the Soyuz TMA-11 spacecraft shed its rocket stages and entered orbit. Sheikh Muszaphar's parents watched the liftoff from an observation area, praying and in tears.