Soyuz rocket lifts off, carrying U.S., Russian, Malaysian on space station mission - NBC Right Now/KNDO/KNDU Tri-Cities, Yakima, WA |

Soyuz rocket lifts off, carrying U.S., Russian, Malaysian on space station mission

BAIKONUR, Kazakhstan (AP) - A Russian rocket carrying an American, a Russian and Malaysia's first space traveler is on its way to the international space station.

The Soyuz-FG rocket blasted off from a launch facility in Kazakhstan today. Aboard were Peggy Whitson of Beaconsfield, Iowa, a veteran Russian cosmonaut (Yuri Malenchenko) and a Malaysian man (Dr. Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor).

Whitson will be the first woman to command the space station.

The Malaysian is the ninth Muslim in space. And the mission coincides with the last days of Ramadan, the holy month when Muslims fast from dawn until sundown. Malaysian clerics have decreed that he'll will be excused from fasting while in space.

Facing Mecca to pray will also be difficult, as the direction will continually change as the craft orbits the Earth. But the clerics have decided that the exact location matters only for the beginning of the prayer ritual.

Whitson and the cosmonaut will be staying on as the station's new crew.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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