A Russian Soyuz capsule carrying an American and two Russians has blasted off successfully from Kazakhstan on a mission to the International Space Station.
It is the first flight of a Nasa astronaut in the post-space shuttle era and is a welcome success for the Russian space programme. Last week a Russian Mars probe failed to leave Earth’s orbit – it is expected to burn up in the atmosphere by 26 November unless it can be reactivated. In August an unmanned Progress cargo ship bound for the space station crashed – the rocket that failed was the same kind used by the Soyuz.
The Soyuz TMA-22 lifted off as scheduled at 8.14am local time (4.14am GMT) on Monday from the Russian-leased Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. It is carrying Nasa astronaut Dan Burbank and Russians Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin, and is due to dock at the station on Wednesday.
The launch had been postponed for two months due to the Progress failure causing concerns about crew safety.
Monday’s launch followed a rigorous inspection of all Soyuz rockets and a successful launch of a Progress ship last month. Technicians found that the earlier Soyuz probably failed due to contamination in fuel lines.
Analysts have said that despite Russia remaining the only nation capable of regular manned space launches, the country’s programme is struggling, reliant on obsolete technology propped up by equipment bought from other countries. The Phobos-Grunt probe that failed on 8 November shortly after launch would have been its first mission beyond Earth’s orbit in more than 20 years.