Soyuz rocket: First astronauts to launch since October failure

Soyuz rocket: First astronauts to launch since October failure

Russia's space agency Roscosmos said Monday the first manned Soyuz flight to the International Space Station since a failed launch in October was proceeding according to plan.

Their Soyuz spacecraft entered a designated orbit just under nine minutes after the launch and is set to dock at the space outpost in about six hours after making four orbits of the Earth.

A Soyuz-FG rocket carrying NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Roscosmos' Alexei Ovchinin failed two minutes into its flight on October 11, activating an automatic rescue system that sent their capsule into a steep ride back to Earth.

A criminal investigation into the failure placed the blame on a sensor which had been damaged during assembly.

The incident became the first failure of a manned space launch in modern Russian history.

NASA's Anne McClain, Canada's David Saint-Jacques and Russia's Oleg Kononenko lifted off from Russia's Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan into sunset skies as scheduled at 5:31 p.m. local time (3:31 a.m. PT). The Soyuz craft experienced a problem minutes after liftoff, en route to the International Space Station, but the capsule landed safely.

Reports say a Russian Orthodox priest blessed their rocket before its flight on Monday, as per tradition.

Soyuz rocket: First astronauts to launch since October failure

At a press conference on the eve of the launch, crew commander Kononenko said the astronauts "absolutely" trusted teams preparing for the flight.

"We feel very ready for it", she said.

The crew who set off on Monday will spend six-and-a-half months on board the station.

Saint-Jacques will be the first Canadian astronaut to visit the space station since Chris Hadfield, who recorded a version of David Bowie's Space Oddity classic on board in 2013.

Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, is now the only organisation transporting astronauts to the ISS after Nasa ended its space shuttle flights in 2011.

But comments by the combative chief of the Russian space agency, Dmitry Rogozin, have increasingly raised eyebrows.

In recent years Russia's debt-laden space industry has suffered a number of mishaps including the loss of cargo spacecraft and satellites.

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