Russian Soyuz rocket blasts off for space station
By Robin Paxton and Dmitry Solovyov
ALMATY (Reuters) - A trio of Russian, Japanese and U.S. astronauts blasted off aboard a Soyuz spaceship on Sunday for a four-month mission on the International Space Station (ISS) that Moscow hopes will help restore confidence in its space programme.
Veteran Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko, NASA astronaut Sunita Williams and Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide launched successfully aboard the Soyuz TMA-05M rocket from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 0240 GMT (2240 EDT on Saturday).
They are scheduled to berth early on Tuesday (late Monday EDT), joining NASA Flight Engineer Joseph Acaba and Russian cosmonauts Gennady Padalka and Sergei Revin aboard the ISS, a $100 billion research complex orbiting 240 miles above Earth.
"The Soyuz had a very smooth ride into space," a spokesman for NASA said during a live broadcast on the agency's television channel. The rocket blazed a bright orange trail through cloudy skies above the Kazakh steppe.
Since the retirement of the space shuttles last year, the United States is dependent on Russia to fly astronauts to the ISS, which costs the nation $60 million per person.
Moscow hopes a successful mission will help to restore confidence in its once-pioneering space programme after a string of launch mishaps last year, including the failure of a mission to return samples from the Martian moon Phobos.
The previous Soyuz launch on May 15 was delayed by more than one month to allow Russia's partly state-owned space contractor, RKK Energia, to prepare a new capsule for launch after an accident during pressure tests damaged the Soyuz crew capsule.
There were no such delays with Sunday's launch. Continued...