Two Russians and one American have blasted off aboard a Soyuz spacecraft on a mission to the International Space Station (ISS) to launch the first NASA astronaut into space since that U.S. agency shuttered its decades-long space-shuttle program.
The mission comes after new questions were raised about Russia's space program after an unmanned Progress cargo craft that was taking supplies to the space station crashed shortly after takeoff from Baikonur in August.
The joint Russia-U.S. mission blasted off from Kazakhstan's Baikonur space launch center on November 14, in what appeared to be a successful launch.
Russian Mission control said the Soyuz TMA-22 capsule had successfully entered Earth's orbit.
The August catastrophe -- blamed on a technical malfunction -- was one of Russia's worst space disasters in decades, and disrupted operations to bring fresh crew members to the space station following the closure of the U.S. space shuttle program earlier this year.
The November 14 launch also follows the failure so far of Russia's Phobos-Grunt unmanned space probe, which was launched last week, to fire its engines and depart from Earth's orbit on a planned mission to study Mars. That craft is expected to burn up on reentry to Earth's atmosphere by the end of the month unless scientists and engineers can fix the problem, which appeared unlikely.
The crew now on its way to the space station includes Russians Anton Skaplerov and Anatoli Ivanishin, and U.S. astronaut Daniel Burbank. They are due to arrive at the orbiting outpost on November 16.
While the U.S. manned space program is now heavily reliant on Russian cooperation, Russia's manned space efforts are also said to be hampered by budget issues, aging equipment, and dependence on foreign parts.
compiled from agency reports