Russia launches fresh crew to ISS on fast-track journey

ALMATY, KAZAKHSTAN (AFP) – Two cosmonauts and a NASA astronaut blasted off on a high-speed journey to the International Space Station (ISS) yesterday, in the first such launch aboard a Russian capsule since SpaceX’s game-changing debut manned flight from United States (US) soil. Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov of Roscosmos and NASA’s Kathleen Rubins launched from the Russian-operated Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 0545 GMT yesterday.

A NASA TV commentator said everything was normal, citing communications between Russian mission control and the crew, while Roscosmos said the capsule had successfully gone into orbit.

Their journey will be the first manned flight to the ISS to last just over three hours before docking – a new fast-track profile that takes half the time of standard trips to the orbital lab.

Only an unmanned Progress cargo space ship has previously used this profile, which requires just two orbits before docking.

The launch is sandwiched between two SpaceX launches – the first manned spaceflights to the ISS under NASA’s aegis since 2011.

Before May 30, when US astronauts Robert Behnken and Doug Hurley arrived at the ISS, Russia and Baikonur had enjoyed a lucrative monopoly on manned missions to the ISS.

The NASA duo returned safely on August 2 and a fresh SpaceX launch, this time anticipating a full-length half-year mission at the space station, is expected next month.

The emergence of private players SpaceX and Boeing – part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Programme – has fuelled talk of a new “space race” between a number of countries.

US astronaut Kathleen Rubins, Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov, and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov, members of the main crew to the International Space Station (ISS). PHOTO: AP