A Soyuz rocket blasted off with an international crew of three toward the International Space Station on Sunday in a mission testing the reliability of Russia's crisis-prone space programme.


NASA's Sunita Williams and Japan's Akihiko Hoshide and Yury Malenchenko of Russia started their journey on top of the Soyuz-FG under the open skies of the Kazakh steppe on schedule and without a hitch. The trio gave big thumbs up after the needle-shaped craft pierced a thin layering of white clouds and safely reached orbit about nine minutes later.


Live footage from inside the Soyuz TMA-05M capsule that will dock to the ISS after a two-day journey showed a small doll in a red dress hanging before the three space travellers as a good luck charm as the rocket gathered pace. The astronauts read calmly through thick printouts of their crew procedures while mission commander Malenchenko picked at some of the more distant controls on the panel with a black stick in his hand.


The final launch of a US satellite in July 2011 left nations dependent on the reliability of Russia's Soviet-era space achievements while governments and private companies scramble for new ways to launch humans to the station and beyond. The US Company SpaceX blazed a new path for private spaceflight by sending a cargo vessel called Dragon to the ISS in May.

 

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