A Briton rocketed into space Saturday with two Soviet cosmonauts, beginning the trip she has dreamed about since hearing a commercial on her car radio.
The Soviet Soyuz rocket carrying Helen Sharman and her crewmates pierced the gray clouds above the desert steppe of the Baikonur Cosmodrome seconds after blastoff at 3:53 p.m. Moscow time (5:53 a.m. MDT).Thousands of gallons of liquid oxygen and kerosene, burning with a bright orange flame, poured out of the 49-yard-tall, 310-ton rocket as it lifted off from the spaceport in Soviet Central Asia.
"Bye, Mum. Love to the family," Sharman told her parents, John and Lyndis Sharman of Sheffield, England, before getting on a bus to ride to the launchpad.
Sharman, 27, began her journey in June 1989 when, listening to her car radio, she heard an advertisement for a contest that said, "Astronaut Wanted: No Experience Necessary."
She beat out 13,000 other applicants in the contest financed by the London-based Moscow Narodny Bank and trained 17 months for her eight days in space. She is the first Briton in space, according to officials in London.
Hours after liftoff, Sharman and crewmates Anatoly Artsebarsky and Sergei Krikalev were reported to be feeling well as they orbited 150 miles above Earth in their cramped TM-12 capsule.
On Monday, the spacecraft will dock at the orbiting Mir space station, occupied by cosmonauts Viktor Afanasyev and Musa Manarov.
On May 26, Sharman will return to Earth with Afanasyev and Manarov. Artsebarsky, the flight commander, and Krikalev will remain on the Mir for five months of repairs aboard the 5-year-old space station.
Soviet television interrupted its usual programming for live coverage of the countdown and launch.
The broadcast showed Sharman - called "Lenochka," a nickname for Helen, by her crewmates - strapped into the capsule minutes before launch. She waved at a camera inside the capsule and smiled about 100 seconds after liftoff.