Soyuz rocket lifts off from Kazakhstan, heading for orbital lab
Flames spurt from a Russian Soyuz rocket during its launch early Wednesday local time from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The launch vehicle lofted two Americans and a Russian cosmonaut toward the International Space Station.
spacecraft blasted off toward the International Space Station Tuesday to deliver three new members of the orbiting laboratory's multicultural crew.
The Soyuz TMA-19 spacecraft rose from its launch pad at Russia's Baikonur Cosmodrome in the Central Asian republic of Kazakhstan at 5:35 p.m. ET Tuesday, carrying two American astronauts and one veteran Russian cosmonaut toward the the space station.
"The station has grown magnificently. You can't believe it," cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin, who is returning to the space station on the Soyuz for the first time since 2007, said in a prelaunch press conference. Yurchikhin headed for space alongside NASA astronauts Douglas Wheelock and Shannon Walker, on a mission to join three other crewmates already aboard the International Space Station for its Expedition 24 mission.
It was actually 3:35 a.m. local time Wednesday when Yurchikhin and his crewmates blasted off, placing their liftoff on the 47th anniversary of the launch of the first woman in space — cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova — in 1963.
"It's an honor to launch on her date, as well," Walker said.
Over the next six months, the three spacefliers expect to perform several spacewalks to maintain the $100 billion space station. They also expect to host NASA's two final space shuttle missions — currently scheduled for mid-September and late November — before the U.S. space agency retires the shuttles for good.
"It's a big change in our program ... but change is not always bad," Wheelock told reporters.
And while the new station astronauts may be present for the end of space shuttle era, their mission to prime the outpost for another decade in orbit is also exciting, he added.
"It's actually bittersweet to see the shuttle go, but it's really an exciting time as well," Wheelock said. "We're also going to be the first increment to really go to full utilization of the space station as an orbiting laboratory."
Once the space shuttles retire, NASA will rely on Russian Soyuz vehicles to ferry American astronauts to and from the space station until new commercial spacecraft are available under a new space plan announced this year by U.S. President Barack Obama.
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