A Russian Soyuz rocket carrying three crew members bound for the International Space Station blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan today, kicking off a two-day flight to catch up and dock with the orbital lab complex.
With Russian commander Dmitry "Dima" Kondratyev at the controls, the booster's first-stage engines roared to life on time and the rocket lifted off at 2:09:25 p.m. EST (1:09 a.m. Thursday local time), quickly climbing away from the same pad used by Yuri Gagarin at the dawn of the space age 50 years ago next April.
Live television shots from inside the cabin showed Kondratyev in the capsule's center seat, flanked by Italian astronaut Paolo Nespoli on his left and NASA astronaut Catherine "Cady" Coleman on his right. All three appeared relaxed and in good spirits as the rocket streaked toward space.
Nine-and-a-half minutes later, the Soyuz TMA-20 capsule separated from the rocket's third stage and slipped into its planned preliminary orbit. Solar arrays and antennas deployed a few moments later and Russian flight controllers said the spacecraft was healthy and on course for a docking with the International Space Station around 3:12 p.m. Friday.
"Everything's good on our side. Congratulations on the successful orbital insertion," chief flight director Vladimir Solovyov radioed after engineers assessed telemetry. "Everything looks good, everything pressurized as it was supposed to, and the telemetry is nominal."… Read more