Monday, 10 December, 2018

Astronauts to try for space station on Russian rocket after October crash

Astronauts Three astronauts set to launch to ISS tomorrow
Elijah Vega | 05 December, 2018, 13:14

Russia's Soyuz MS-11 spacecraft carrying the members of the International Space Station (ISS) expedition 58/59, blasts off to the ISS from the launch pad at the Russian-leased Baikonur cosmodrome on December 3, 2018.

The Soyuz spacecraft is now the only vehicle that can ferry crews to the space station, but Russian Federation stands to lose that monopoly in the coming years with the arrival of SpaceX's Dragon and Boeing's Starliner crew capsules.

Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, Anne McClain of Nasa and David Saint-Jacques of the Canadian Space Agency blasted off for a six-and-a-half month mission on the International Space Station.

NASA spokesperson Gary Johnson described the mission as "textbook launch and insertion into orbit" during the liftoff commentary.

Russian Federation suspended all manned space launches pending an investigation before giving the green light November 1.

Stakes were high for Monday's launch, the first to carry a crew since a previous mission to the space station in October was aborted two minutes into the flight after a booster failed to properly separate from the rocket.

The astronauts on board, NASA's Nick Hague and Roscosmos' Alexey Ovchinin, had to make a dramatic escape 31 miles above the Earth in a capsule that was ejected from the rocket.

The Soyuz-FG rocket booster with Soyuz MS-11 space ship blasts off at the Russian leased Baikonur cosmodrome Kazakhstan on Monday
The Soyuz-FG rocket booster with Soyuz MS-11 space ship blasts off at the Russian leased Baikonur cosmodrome Kazakhstan on Monday

Despite October's emergency landing, however, astronauts expressed continued confidence on the Soyuz.

"Risk is part of our profession", crew commander Kononenko told a news conference at Baikonur on Sunday, adding they "absolutely" trusted teams preparing them for the flight.

"We are psychologically and technically prepared for blast-off and any situation which, God forbid, may occur on board". Roscosmos is the only organization that can ferry astronauts to the ISS so far.

The Soyuz is the only means of reaching the ISS since the U.S. retired the space shuttle in 2011. In recent years Russia's debt-laden space industry has suffered a number of mishaps including the loss of cargo spacecraft and satellites.

As NPR's Bill Chappell reported in October, "The agency does have contracts with commercial companies like Boeing and SpaceX that are developing new vehicles to take astronauts up, but the first flights of those aren't scheduled until next year".

Monday's launch was needed to guarantee that the ISS was not left unmanned after the station's current crew returns to earth later this month.

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