US-Russian crew blasts off for space station
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A Russian spacecraft carrying an American and two Russians blasted off Monday from the snow-covered Kazakh steppes in a faultless launch that eased anxiety and fears about the future of US and Russian space programs.
The Soyuz TMA-22 lifted off as scheduled at 8:14 am (0414 GMT) Monday from the snow-covered Russian-leased Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to carry NASA astronaut Dan Burbank and Russians Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin on a mission to the International Space Station.
The launch had been delayed for two months due to the crash of an unmannned Progress cargo ship in August. It cast doubts about future missions to the station, because the rocket that crashed used the same upper stage as the booster rockets carrying Soyuz ships to orbit.
NASA warned that the space outpost will need to be abandoned temporarily for the first time in nearly 11 years if a new crew cannot be launched before the last of the station's six residents fly back to Earth in mid-November.
Russian space officials tracked down the Progress launch failure to an 'accidental' manufacturing flaw and recalled all Soyuz rockets that had been built from space launchpads for a thorough examination. A successful launch of a Progress ship last month cleared the way for the crew to be launched.
The crew said they trusted the Soyuz, a workhorse of the Soviet and then Russian space program for more than 40 years. "We have no black thoughts and full confidence in our technology", said Shkaplerov before the launch.
The new crew are to arrive just in time to keep the orbiting station manned. The three crew members currently on board the station are set to return to Earth on Nov. 21. Another crew launch next month is to take the station back to its normal six-person crew mode.
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