Russia’s Soyuz rocket blasted off today, with a crew of two Russian cosmonauts and one American astronaut, to resupply the International Space Station (ISS).
The Soyuz launch, which unusually took place in blizzard conditions (see the video below for some impressive footage) was entirely uneventful although, it has to be said, the confidence of the mission controllers and astronauts shortly before launch sounded a little forced – hardly suprising given the recent problems the Russian space program has experienced (see below for more details).
Vladimir Popovkin, the head of Roscosmos, told journalists before the launch that “we have no doubt in our minds both the rocket and the vehicle are ready, all the activities have been done at the appropriate level of quality and reliability.” The astronauts also expressed confidence – “we have no black thoughts and full confidence in our technology,” said Anton Shkaplerov at a press conference.
All being well, the Soyuz capsule will now dock with the ISS early on the morning of 16 November.
The launch marks the first launch since the suspension of Russia’s manned space program in August following the failure of an un-manned Soyuz booster rocket and the increasingly likely failure of the Phobos-Grunt mission to Mars, and will provide some welcome relief to Roscosmos, the Russian Federal Space Agency. The news will also relieve NASA, which earlier this year retired its space shuttles, placing its faith in Russian rockets to get Americans into space and to resupply the ISS.
The launch had originally been scheduled for 22 September 2011, but because of the failure of an unmanned Soyuz launch in August had been delayed until almost the last possible moment. The three astronauts already on the ISS were due to depart for earth on 21 November and, had today’s launch failed, the ISS would have been left unmanned for the first time in its history. Instead, US-astronaut Dan Burbank (a veteran of two space shuttle missions) and Russian cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin (both making their maiden space voyage) will spend five months on the ISS.