MOSCOW, JULY 22 -- A Soyuz capsule carrying two Soviet cosmonauts and the first Syrian in space streaked into orbit today after a dawn blastoff from the Central Asian steppe, state-run media said.
Syrian Lt. Col. Mohammed Faris, a 36-year-old veteran of two wars with Israel, and cosmonauts Alexander Viktorenko, 40, and Alexander Alexandrov, 44, were to spend two days circling the earth while Faris photographs his homeland.
Their TM-3 spacecraft is then scheduled to dock with the orbiting Mir space station, where two other Soviet cosmonauts, Yuri Romanenko and Alexander Laveikin, have been living and working for more than five months.
The Soviet-Syrian flight is the Soviet Union's third manned space venture since the Jan. 28, 1986, explosion of the U.S. space shuttle Challenger that killed all seven people aboard and interrupted the American space program.
The joint mission is also a display of Soviet solidarity with Syria, the Kremlin's closest ally in the Middle East.
The rocket carrying the capsule blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome at 5:59 a.m. Moscow time (9:59 p.m. Tuesday EDT), the Tass news agency said in a brief dispatch.
Ten minutes after launch, state-run radio reported that the spacecraft was in orbit.
"Everything's normal," one of the Soviet spacemen radioed back to earth in a message broadcast live over domestic Russian-language radio.
Soviet television's morning news program "90 Minutes" later showed film of the huge booster rocket rising atop a plume of orange flame into the gray dawn skies over Soviet Kazakhstan.
In the city of Leninsk, near Baikonur, banners waved above the streets lauding the ties between Moscow and Syria and calling for their reinforcement, Tass said.
Syrian media have touted the mission as a demonstration that the Arab nation is ahead of its arch-enemy, Israel, in space technology.