A Russian Soyuz craft has successfully launched from Kazakhstan, the first to do so since an unmanned rocket crashed just after launch in August.
The spacecraft is carrying three astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) – Russians Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin are on their first voyage, accompanied by US veteran Dan Burbank.
The suspension of manned spaceflight, in effect since the 24 August crash, ended when the rocket launched from the Baikonur cosmodrome at 4:14 GMT on 14 November. Russian media outlets quoted Shkaplerov as saying “We don’t have any black thoughts. We have faith in our equipment.” Since NASA ended its Shuttle programme in July, Russia has been the only nation able to ferry crews to the ISS.
In August, a blocked duct cut the fuel supply to the Soyuz-U’s third-stage just over 320 seconds after the Soyuz lifted away from Baikonur, causing its engine to shut down prematurely. As a result the Progress cargo ship atop the rocket failed to make orbit and fell back to Earth. It came down in Russia’s Altai province, 1,500km northeast of the launch site. A loud explosion was heard in the region, but nobody was injured.
After the crash there had been fears that the ISS would go unmanned when the current crew leaves on 21 November. However Burbank, Shkaplerov and Ivanishin are now scheduled to dock their Soyuz TMA-22 spacecraft with their new home in the early hours of Wednesday morning, joining Mike Fossum, Satoshi Furukawa and Sergei Volkov. Fossum will hand over command of the station to the new crew within four days.