ALMATY:A trio of Russian, Japanese and US astronauts blasted off aboard a Soyuz spaceship today 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.
They are scheduled to berth early on Tuesday, joining NASA Flight Engineer Joseph Acaba and Russian cosmonauts Gennady Padalka and Sergei Revin aboard the ISS, a $100 billion research complex orbiting 385 km 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 US is dependent on Russia to fly astronauts to the ISS, which costs the nation $60 million per person.
The previous Soyuz launch on May 15 was delayed by more than one month to allow Russia’s partly state-owned space contractor 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.