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First African in space boards ISS

MOSCOW, Russia -- Space tourist Mark Shuttleworth, a South African millionaire and his continent's first astronaut, has boarded the International Space Station from a Russian Soyuz craft.

The rocket carrying Shuttleworth, Russian commander Yuri Gidzenko and Italian flight engineer Roberto Vittori docked with the ISS on Saturday two days after blasting off from Baikonur base in Kazakhstan.

The 28-year-old millionaire businessman, the second man to pay Moscow a reported $20 million for a trip to space, will carry out research on the HIV virus plaguing his homeland.

Footage from Moscow's Mission Control showed the three-strong crew clambering into the ISS about an hour after latching onto the station, where Gidzenko was greeted with a hug from current Russian commander Yuri Onufriyenko.

The three visitors gathered before the station's cameras with the ISS's Russian-U.S. crew to speak to Moscow.

The world's second space tourist, South African Mark Shuttleworth, heads for the stars. (April 25)

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"We're very happy to have a group of visitors on board. It's nice to see new faces," U.S. engineer Carl Walz told Mission Control.

Gidzenko, who was a member of the first crew to live on the ISS, said the two-day flight to the ISS had gone well. The trio will return in an old Soyuz already docked there.

"It has been an incredible two days, with two really nice guys," Gidzenko told Mission Control.

"It was an exciting experience. Lift-off on the rocket was an unbelievable experience," Vittori, a European Space Agency astronaut on his first space trip, said. "We will take a short tour and then start working."

Shuttleworth, did not speak to Mission Control, but was expected to link up with South African President Thabo Mbeki later in the day.

In an interview before takeoff, Shuttleworth said he was feeling "some nervousness, some anxiety."

"I am not a professional," he added. "It continues to amaze me how calm, cool and collected the professionals are, but we have all been trained."

He said he hoped to "find time to enjoy this extraordinary experience."

Shuttleworth made his fortune after starting an Internet security firm in his parents' garage and selling it four years later for hundreds of millions of dollars.

He spent nearly eight months preparing for the flight with cosmonauts in Russia and trained briefly at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

Shuttleworth's dream of space travel gained momentum last year when California equity fund manager Dennis Tito became the first tourist in space.

Tito, 61, also paid about $20 million to tag along with two cosmonauts for a weeklong trip to the space station. But he got the cold shoulder from NASA management.

The trip angered NASA, the primary space station partner, which argued that Tito's presence could endanger the station crew. Since then, the two space agencies negotiated guidelines for future amateur visits to Alpha.

"One of the big things that I hope to achieve in this project was to show that public and private interests could work together for mutual benefit," Shuttleworth said.

"We concluded a contract, I think for the first time, which will formalize the relationship and give me the ability to use some of the remarkable technology NASA has up there for educational and science purposes."

-- writer Richard Stenger and CNN Space Correspondent Miles O'Brien contributed to this report




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