BAIKONUR: A Soyuz spacecraft with three astronauts successfully launched towards the International Space Station on Wednesday, marking the 500th manned launch in space travel history.
The trio — including the first Danish citizen ever to fly into space — blasted off in the Soyuz TMA 18M rocket on schedule at 0437 GMT from the same launchpad that Yuri Gagarin used for his historic entry into the cosmos in 1961.
“The crew is doing well, everything is in order onboard,” relayed mission control at Baikonur in Kazakhstan.
Veteran cosmonaut Sergei Volkov of the Russian space agency Roscosmos is leading a team that also includes first-time flyers Aidyn Aimbetov from Kazakhstan (Kazcosmos) and Andreas Mogensen from Denmark (European Space Agency).
They are expected to make the journey to the ISS in two days, docking on Friday at about 0742 GMT.
Volkov will stay on at the ISS, while both Aimbetov and Mogensen will return to Earth on Soyuz TMA-16M on September 12.
Mogensen is the first Dane to enter space while Aimbetov, who replaced British singer Sarah Brightman after the 54-year-old pulled out of the mission in June, is the third from his country to do so.
“It’s a great honour for me to represent Denmark as an astronaut,” Mogensen said in a Google hangout organised by ESA last month.
– Lego and horse milk –
Mogensen, 38, will be joined by 26 custom-made Lego models provided especially for the mission by the world-famous Danish toy manufacturer, as well as the writing of Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard.
Aimbetov, 43, took dried horse milk and several other national staples from the Central Asian country into space with him as well as a toy from his daughter, who said she hoped he would encounter alien life.
At a press conference ahead of the flight on Tuesday, Kazakhstan’s Deputy Prime Minister Berdibek Saparbaev noted that Volkov’s own cosmonaut father Alexander Volkov accompanied the first-ever Kazakh cosmonaut to enter space, Toktar Aubakirov, on a 1991 mission.
“Now you have continued this line by becoming the commander of the crew in which our Aidyn Aimbetov is flying.”
The launch from Baikonur is the first since July 23, when Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko and US and Japanese astronauts Kjell Lindgren and Kimiya Yu blasted off on a 163-day mission.
Prior to that, Russia had put all space travel on hold after the failure of the unmanned Progress freighter in late April. The doomed ship lost contact with Earth and burned up in the atmosphere, forcing a group of astronauts to spend an extra month on the ISS.
In May, another Russian craft, a Proton-M rocket carrying a Mexican satellite, malfunctioned and crashed in Siberia soon after its launch.
Space travel is one of the few facets of international cooperation between Russia and the West that has remained unaffected by the Ukraine crisis. –AFP