By Shamil Zhumatov
BAIKONURCOSMODROME, Kazakhstan (Reuters) – A Russian-made Soyuz rocket blasted a three-man crew into orbit on Monday, beginning the first manned voyage to the International Space Station since a mission in October was aborted in midair because of a rocket malfunction.
The Soyuz lifted off at 1131 GMT from Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, carrying Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, NASA astronaut Anne McClain and the Canadian Space Agency’s David Saint-Jacques.
“We have confirmation of the spacecraft separation; Soyuz capsule and crew safely in orbit,” NASA TV said online in its blow-by-blow commentary of the take-off.
The launch was closely scrutinised because of the abortive mission to the ISS on Oct. 11, which ended two minutes after take-off when a rocket failure forced its two-man crew to perform an emergency landing.
Russian investigators blamed that malfunction, which occurred as the first and second stages of a booster rocket separated, on a damaged sensor.
The three-man crew appeared briefly before relatives and reporters on Monday morning, waving and blowing kisses as they left a hotel to board a bus on their way to prepare for the flight.
The crew repeatedly denied being nervous about flying and insisted the fact that the two-man crew had safely returned to Earth despite the dramatic mishap had demonstrated the reliability of the rocket’s safety mechanisms.
Before take-off, an Orthodox priest at the launchpad on Sunday gave his blessing to the flight, splashing holy water from a brush and holding up a cross.
The spacecraft is due to dock at the ISS at 1736 GMT on Monday.
The new arrivals to the ISS will join the European Space Agency’s Alexander Gerst, NASA’s Serena Auñón-Chancellor and Russia’s Sergey Prokopyev, who have been in orbit since June but are due to fly back to Earth on Dec. 20.
(Additional reporting by Andrey Ostroukh in Moscow, writing by Tom Balmforth, editing by Larry King Williams)