Tears welled up in Alexey Melnikov’s eyes as a spaceship carrying three astronauts lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome several hours before dawn. The Russian-born, London-based computer programmer had wanted to see the breathtaking spectacle since he was a boy. As the rocket engines lit up the sky and shook varied VIPs into silence, here he was standing on the same stretch of steppe that saw Sputnik and Yuri Gagarin make history.
Eight minutes and 45 seconds after blasting off from the Russian-leased desert spaceport in Kazakhstan, the Soyuz capsule – carrying two Russians and an American – separated from the rocket and safely entered orbit en route to the International Space Station. The crowd cheered. A few bottles of vodka slipped from hand to hand.
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David Trilling is EurasiaNet's Central Asia editor.