Three cosmonauts arrived at the International Space Station on July 22, starting an orbital stay, which was delayed for almost 2 months by the unmanned failure of a cargo mission.
NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren, cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko and Kimiya Yui from Japan launched a Soyuz launch vehicle from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 5:02 pm (3:02 am local Kazakhstan time).
"The separation stage went well, everything went fine," Kononenko said on the radio after takeoff in Russian flight control, which is based in Korolev, not far from Moscow.
Everything continued to go smoothly in orbit. The Soyuz spacecraft carrying the trio aboard docked on schedule at 10:45 pm, while the orbital laboratory zoomed in Ecuador, NASA scientists said.
It was a long road for astronauts. Lindgren, Kononenko and Yui were initially set to fly out in May, but they were grounded for almost 2 months while the researchers studied the failure of the Progress of Russia.
The unmanned spacecraft Progress 59 went into uncontrolled rotation almost immediately after its takeoff on April 28, and the ship fell back to Earth a week and a half before reaching the International Space Station. Russian space officials announced last month that the failure was apparently caused by a failure in the mix between Progress 59 and the third stage of its rocket. Progress 59 was also launched on the Soyuz rocket, so NASA, the Russian Space Agency and their partners wanted to make sure that everything was fine with the rocket before giving the next crew mission the green light - hence the delay.
Lindgren, Kononenko and Yui bring the Expedition 44 of the International Space Station in its full strength of 6 crew members. Already on board the orbital laboratory were: NASA astronaut Scott Kelly, cosmonauts Gennady Padalka and Mikhail Kornienko.
Kelly and Kornienko are on an unprecedented annual mission aboard the station. Scientists are studying behavioral and physiological reactions in a long-term space flight to help lay the groundwork for crews taking off to Mars in the future.
Padalka spent more time in space in his life than anyone else in history (more than 828 days).
Today's launch is the first flight for Lindgren and Yui. Kononenko had already visited the International Space Station twice before this flight at six-month missions, which began in April 2008 and December 2011. At the present mission, these three astronauts will spend approximately five months in space. They will return to Earth in December.