BAIKONUR COSMODROME, U.S.S.R., DEC. 2 -- A Soviet rocket rode into orbit today carrying two cosmonauts and a Japanese television reporter, who became the first journalist in space.
The liftoff, which also launched an effort to commercialize the Soviet space program, was on schedule under sunny skies on the Central Asian steppes of Kazakhstan.
Journalist Toyohiro Akiyama, 48, joined Soviet cosmonauts Viktor Afanasyev and Musa Manarov in the Soyuz TM-11 space capsule. Akiyama was a passenger under a $12 million contract between the Soviet Union and Japan's biggest private television company, TBS.
Underscoring the commercial nature of the mission, the Soviet rocket even had advertising slogans for TBS and other Japanese companies on its sides.
"I feel fine," Akiyama said minutes before liftoff. During the eight-day mission, he is to document the experience on radio and television for TBS.
The Japanese television company is spending $37 million on the venture to mark its 40th year on the air, according to network president Izumi Tanaka.
More than 120 TBS reporters, cameramen and technicians scurried about the launch control center and reviewing stand to cover the launch, even sacrificing a remote-control camera next to the rocket to watch the flames close-up before it burned.
Akiyama, a TBS news director who quit a four-pack-a-day cigarette habit during the training, was asked before liftoff what he looked forward to most on his return. "I can't wait to have a smoke," he said.