Friends and family of the world's next space tourist — including his astronaut father — watched Friday as the rocket for the voyage was placed on a launch pad in Kazakhstan for its weekend takeoff to the International Space Station.
The Soyuz TMA-13 spacecraft, mounted on a three-stage rocket, traveled 5 kilometers (3 miles) by railroad from an assembly hangar to the Baikonur launch area, rolling out at daybreak.
On Sunday it blasts off with American software millionaire Richard Garriott on board. Garriott paid $30 million dollars to travel to the International Space Station, where he will spend about 10 days taking photographs and conducting a range of medical and physical experiments.
Also on the flight will be U.S. astronaut Michael Fincke and Russian cosmonaut Yuri Lonchakov.
Launch preparations were going well, International Space Station Program deputy manager Kirk Shireman said Friday.
"It has been very efficient and very quick. It's a system and a process that has worked tremendously successfully over the years," he said. "We're looking forward to a successful launch on Sunday."
The rocket's installation at the launch pad was watched by dozens of friends, colleagues and family members, including Garriott's father, Owen, a two-time space traveler who took extensive photographs of the Earth's surface during his stay on the U.S. orbital station Skylab in 1973.
Garriott is a board member and investor in Space Adventures, Ltd., a U.S.-based company that has organized flights aboard Russian craft for five other millionaires including the first paying space tourist, California businessman Dennis Tito, in 2001.
He plans to carry out experiments during his voyage, including one involving protein crystal growth, on behalf of companies that he says have footed a "meaningful percentage" of the bill.
He has also said he would take photos to record how the Earth's surface has changed in the 35 years since his father's voyage.
The launch is scheduled for 0701GMT (3:01 a.m. EDT) Sunday.
Garriott returns to Earth later this month with Russian cosmonaut Yuri Volkov, who has been at the space station since April.
Volkov also has followed his father, a decorated cosmonaut from the Soviet era, in traveling to space. But Garriott was unable to do so as an astronaut due to poor eyesight.
Source: AP Features