A Russian Soyuz spacecraft blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan early Friday local time carrying a three-man crew up to the International Space Station, or ISS. The mission is part of the normal six-month crew rotation, but this one should mark the return of U.S. shuttles to space after two years.
|Russian rocket booster Soyuz blasts off at the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan Friday, April 15, 2005|
American astronaut John Phillips and Russian Sergei Krikalyov will replace the current two-man crew for a six-month stay on the station. One of their main tasks will be to welcome the return of an American space shuttle to the space station for the first time in two years.
The shuttle Discovery is due to dock with the ISS next month after a two-year break due to the disintegration of the shuttle Columbia, which killed all seven astronauts on board.
Since that time the Russian Soyuz have served as the only link with the station.
Extensive safety measures have been taken since the Columbia disaster, caused when exterior insulation tiles failed to protect the shuttle during the intense heat of reentry into earth's atmosphere.
The new crewmen on the station will conduct a photographic survey of Discovery as it moves in for docking to determine if the problem has been corrected. Officials also say two space walks are due to take place during the time Mr. Krikalyov and Mr. Phillips are on the station.
The third crewmember now on his way in the Soyuz is Italian Roberto Vittori, of the European space agency. He is due to spend eight days aboard before returning to earth with the two men now in the ISS, Russian Salizhan Sharipov and American Leroy Chiao.
A new crew normally arrives at the ISS every six months, and sometimes an unmanned Soyuz craft also launches to bring food, water and equipment up to the giant orbiting complex.