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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Soyuz Rocket Blasts Off

ReutersShukor, top, Whitson and Malenchenko waving goodbye Wednesday.
BAIKONUR, Kazakhstan -- A Russian rocket blasted off from a launch facility in Kazakhstan on Wednesday, carrying a Russian, an American and a Malaysian toward the international space station.

The Soyuz-FG rocket lifted off on schedule, soaring into a darkening sky above the Kazakh steppe. It was topped by a spacecraft that was to deliver U.S. astronaut Peggy Whitson, veteran cosmonaut Yury Malenchenko and Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor, a Malaysian physician, to the orbital station in about two days.

Whitson is to be the first woman to command the international space station. Shukor, a 35-year-old orthopedic surgeon, is to spend about 10 days on the station as the first Malaysian in space, 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 as the Soyuz TMA-11 spacecraft entered orbit. Shukor's parents watched the liftoff from an observation area, praying and in tears.

"I'm happy for my country, for Russia, for the United States and everybody," his father said.

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 along with Shukor.

Shukor will be the ninth Muslim in space, and Malaysian newspapers on Wednesday devoted several pages and published special pullouts about the mission, which coincides with the last days of Ramadan.