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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Space Tourist Lifts Off With Martha Stewart Meal

ReutersSergei Ivanov accompanying Oleg Kotov to the spacecraft on Saturday.
BAIKONUR, Kazakhstan -- A rocket roared into the night skies over Kazakhstan, sending a U.S. billionaire software designer and two cosmonauts soaring into orbit on a two-day journey to the international space station.

Climbing on a column of smoke and fire into the clouds over the bleak Kazakh steppes, the Soyuz TMA-10 capsule lifted off at 11:31 p.m. local time Saturday, bathing in an orange glow the Baikonur Cosmodrome and dozens of officials and well-wishers watching some two kilometers from the launch pad.

The capsule then turned northeast and moved downrange, before entering orbit about 10 minutes later. It was scheduled to rendezvous with the station late Monday, Moscow time.

Inside, U.S. billionaire Charles Simonyi and cosmonauts Fyodor Yurchikhin and Oleg Kotov grinned for the onboard camera, gave the thumbs-up sign and batted at a toy black cat hanging from rope -- a token of good luck chosen by Kotov and named Dimla, after his two children.

Simonyi, a 58-year-old Hungarian-born software programmer who helped develop Microsoft Word, paid $25 million for the 13-day trip, the fifth such paying space tourist.

Among those bidding farewell was Simonyi's friend Martha Stewart, the U.S. lifestyle maven who runs a home decorating and cooking business empire.

Stewart's presence in Baikonur inspired wide speculation that she and Simonyi -- friends for about a decade -- were planning to announce their engagement; some celebrity-gossip publications have suggested they are romantically linked.

Charles Simonyi talking to Martha Stewart shortly before Saturday's launch.

First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov came to see the cosmonauts.

Three days after arriving at the station and greeting its current occupants -- cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin and U.S. astronauts Miguel Lopez-Alegria and Sunita Williams -- Simonyi will treat the crews to a gourmet meal, chosen by Stewart, in honor of Cosmonauts' Day, the holiday commemorating Yury Gagarin's 1961 first manned space flight.

The menu includes quail roasted in Madiran wine, duck breast confit with capers, shredded chicken parmentier, apple fondant pieces, rice pudding with candied fruit, and semolina cake with dried apricots.