BAIKONUR, Kazakhstan - The world's second space tourist soared into orbit Thursday on a Russian rocket, overcoming last-minute jitters as he embarked on a dlrs 20 million ride to the International Space Station.
Shuttleworth's native South Africa watched the blastoff live and cheered the first African to reach the cosmos. His family collapsed in an embrace of exuberant tears on the Central Asian launchpad where the Soviet Union inaugurated the space race.
In a blast of heat and orange fire, the Soyuz TM-34 rocketship blasted off from Kazakhstan's Baikonur launchpad at 0627 GMT carrying Shuttleworth, a 28-year-old Internet magnate, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gidzenko and Italian Air Force pilot Roberto Vittori on a 10-day mission.
Rousing applause rose up at the launchpad and mission control outside Moscow when officials announced that the rocket had reached orbit about eight minutes later. The 49-meter (161-foot) Soyuz is expected to dock with the international station on Saturday morning.
"Everything was fine. The crew is feeling fine," Vladimir Solovyov, chief of flights to the Russian segment of the international station, told reporters at mission control.
Shuttleworth's great uncle Lawrie, an 87-year-old ex-pilot wearing a black baseball cap with the slogan "First African in Space," said: "I never experienced anything like it in my life. Seeing that thing partially balanced and poised to go off, I couldn't even breathe."
In South Africa, where Shuttleworth's mission has been receiving blanket media coverage, the launch was carried live by both of the country's public television stations, while a pay station has devoted an entire channel to coverage. A number of schools let pupils watch the launch.
Former President Nelson Mandela expressed pride in Shuttleworth's achievements and wished him luck.
Before departure, Shuttleworth admitted to feeling a bit jittery about his voyage, a trip that he's been dreaming about since childhood.
As they were shown putting on spacesuits and climbing up to the rocket Thursday, Shuttleworth and Vittori were visibly nervous. They seemed to freeze at the bottom of the stairs, before crew commander Gidzenko - the only one of the three with experience in space - shouted down to them "Let's go, let's go!"
The team's mission, named "Marco Polo," is to drop off a fresh Soyuz rocketship to the space station. A Soyuz is kept docked as a lifeboat and replaced every six months to keep it fresh.
Shuttleworth is following in the footsteps of American businessman Dennis Tito, who became the first space tourist last year when he went to the international station on a Russian rocket.
Shuttleworth has spent eight months in grueling training with the other cosmonauts, learned Russian so he can communicate with mission control and attended one week's worth of lessons at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston.
Shuttleworth also received lessons from a South African scientist who needs his help to conduct experiments on how sheep and mice stem cells react in zero-gravity. Stem cells are the body's master repair cells, and they can develop into different cell and tissue types that researchers are working to develop as treatments for various diseases.
"You shouldn't assume that a tourist is not prepared for space flight," Solovyov said.
He also welcomed the injection of new funds into the Russian space program. Shuttleworth's fee will be paid in installments that will be complete only after the team returns to Earth on May 5.
Struggling to keep alive their once world-leading space program, the Russians began exploring alternative sources of funding after the breakup of the Soviet Union. In addition to offering seats to paying riders, the Russians have courted Western companies eager to tap into Russia's space program.