U.S.-Russian crew blasts off to space station

(Reuters) – A U.S.-Russian crew blasted off in a Russian Soyuz space ship on Friday for a half-year odyssey aboard the International Space Station.

Science | Russia

U.S. astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson and Russian cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov and Mikhail Korniyenko lifted off from Russia’s Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan as planned at 0404 GMT, a spokesman for Mission Control said.

After docking with the multinational International Space Station (ISS) on Sunday, they will join Russian Expedition 23 commander Oleg Kotov, Japanese flight engineer Soichi Noguchi and U.S. flight engineer Timothy Creamer.

The white, cigar-shaped Soyuz TMA-18 roared off into a blue sky with an orange glow from four points of its main boosters, known as “Korolyov’s Cross” after the rocket’s chief designer.

The Soyuz soon disappeared, leaving behind only a white puff of smoke.

“All flight data are nominal. The space ship has now reached the targeted orbit,” Mission Control spokesman Valery Lyndin told Reuters after the first 600 — most critical — seconds into the flight.

A yellow toy duckling, a mascot presented to the crew by Skvortsov’s daughter, started floating freely after the first 10 minutes into the flight, indicating weightlessness.

During the mission, the crew will receive three cargo ships and make two spacewalks — one from the U.S. segment of the station and one from the Russian part.

Russia will ferry all crews to the station aboard its single-use Soyuz spaceships after U.S. space agency NASA mothballs its shuttle fleet by the end of this year.

Earlier this month, Russia announced a halt to space tourism to free capacity for ISS flights. It plans to double the number of launches to four this year as permanent crews aboard the ISS are set to rise to six.

(Reporting by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Ralph Gowling)