Soyuz spacecraft enters orbit

Russia's Soyuz spacecraft has successfully taken off from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The spacecraft has now entered the earth's orbit, where it will travel for two days before arriving at the International Space Station.

Soyuz-TMA-11 with three cosmonauts on board will make three circles around the Earth and reach the ISS.

The 16th expedition crew includes a variety of firsts: the first female commander of the ISS, American Peggy Whitson; the first cosmonaut to get married in space, Russian Yury Malenchenko; and the first Malaysian astronaut, Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor.

The 35-year old doctor won a national competition from 11,000 candidates from all over Malaysia. He views the flight as an historic and important mission.

“It’s a great honour for me to be the first. I want to inspire the whole nation as Gagarin did more than 50 years ago,” hopes the Malayasian.

This expedition marks a breakthrough for Muszaphar’s motherland. The Malaysian Science Minister believes the country will reap considerable benefits from the initiative. 

“Malaysia wants to be closer to the international scientific community. Through this experiment our scientists will link up with Russian, European and American scientists – in general with the global scientific community of today and tomorrow,” said Jamaludin Jarjis, Minister of Scientific Technology Innovations of Malaysia.

Representatives of the three different cultures are going into space together, which will not be a problem says Peggy Whitson, as space can unite everybody: “The view of the Earth is so beautiful from space. If you saw it once you’d never think about war on it”.

The first ever woman-commander was given a very special offer – a Kazakh whip. “I hope there will be no need to use this. But I’ll take it on board just in case,” said Peggy in Russian.

Two of the crew, Yury Malenchenko and Peggy Whitson, will stay at the ISS for six months. Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor will leave the station along with the 15th expedition members at the end of October.