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The Serious Space Tourist

A Russian Soyuz craft carrying space tourist Mark Shuttleworth docked with the International Space Station on Saturday. Shuttleworth was welcomed by the American crew currently manning the ISS.

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Mark Shuttleworth (right) with his Russian and Italian crew members

South African Mark Shuttleworth is only the second space tourist in world history. American Dennis Tito was the first to take a pleasure trip into space last April. Just like Tito, Shuttleworth's destination was the 16-nation International Space Station (ISS).

The cost for Shuttleworth's nine-day package deal is reported to be 22 million euro ($20 million). The 28-year-old Internet millionaire was initially slammed in his home country for spending a fortune on the extravagant trip.

But since his liftoff on Thursday, his expedition has captured the nation's imagination. Shuttleworth is Africa's first astronaut. Former South African President Nelson Mandela dubbed him "afronaut" as he toasted the country's new hero.

Shuttleworth is determined to play an active role on his space mission. Aboard ISS, he will carry out experiments linked to HIV and AIDS research. He will be growing protein crystals for pharmaceutical research, which survive better in zero gravity. "If the crystals develop as expected, we'll be able to analyze their structures," explains Mathias Spude of Astrium Space Infrastructure in Bremen, Germany. Spude hopes the findings will then make it possible "to develop new drugs, in particular to help in the fight against AIDS."

Perfect liftoff

Sojus-Rakete in Baikonur

The Soyuz TM booster rocket, that is to launch the world's second space tourist into orbit, is transported to the launch pad at the Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakstan,

Together with a Russian and an Italian astronaut, Shuttleworth blasted off from Baikonur space station in Kazakhstan on Thursday. The crew is the third Russian-led team to visit the International Space Station. It will spend eight days aboard the ISS.

Mark Shuttleworth and the crew are due to return to earth aboard an old Soyuz-TM33. They will leave their own, newer, craft at the ISS, where it will act as a lifeboat in case of emergency. They plan to land back on the Kazakh steppe early on May 5.

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