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Three astronauts blast off for ISS on Russian rocket

May 15, 2012

Russia's Soyuz TMA-04M spacecraft with the International Space Station (ISS) Expedition 31/32 aboard blasts off from the Russian leased Kazakh Baikonur cosmodrome on May 15, 2012.  US astronaut Joseph Acaba with Russian cosmonauts Gennady Padalka and Sergei Revin started their journey in their Soyuz TMA-04M capsule from the Kazakh steppe to the space station.   — Photo by AFP

BAIKONUR: Two Russians and an American on Tuesday blasted off for the International Space Station (ISS) aboard a Soyuz FG rocket from Russia’s Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Gennady Padalka and Sergei Revin and American Joseph Acaba started their journey in the Russian Soyuz TMA-04M capsule under crystal clear skies from the Kazakh steppe to the space station, an AFP correspondent said.

Their capsule was delivered into orbit as planned and all the crew were feeling good, mission control said. They are due to arrive at the space station after a two-day journey on Thursday morning.

Russia is now the sole nation capable of transporting humans to the ISS after the withdrawal of the US shuttle but this blast-off was the first manned flight from Baikonur since December 21.

The launch had been delayed by one-and-a-half months after the spacecraft the three spacemen were initially to use in the mission was shown in testing not to be hermetically sealed and could not be used for safety reasons.

Russia’s space programme has been beset by a litany of technical problems which have led to the loss of a half dozen satellites and vehicles over the last year, including a Progress cargo vessel bound for the ISS.

The Soyuz rockets, the workhorse of the Russian space programme and the direct descendants of the rocket that took Yuri Gagarin to space in 1961, were grounded after the Progress crashed into Siberia after launch.

However all manned launches since Russia resumed using the Soyuz have been textbook and hitch-free.

On board the ISS, the three newcomers will join Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, US Nasa astronaut Don Pettit and Dutch astronaut Andre Kuipers who have already been on the station almost five months since their December launch.

Padalka, who is making his fourth space flight, is one of Russia's most experienced and decorated active cosmonauts who has already spent 585 days in space and made eight spacewalks.

Acaba had previously made one shuttle flight while Revin is making his first trip into space.