Russian spaceship lifts off with ISS crew, Brazilian astronaut

UPDATED: 13:06, March 30, 2006

A Russian spaceship carrying a two-man crew of the International Space Station (ISS) and a Brazilian astronaut was launched early Thursday from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The Soyuz TMA-8 capsule blasted off from the Central Asian steppe at 6:30 a.m. Moscow time (0230 GMT) with Russian cosmonaut Pavel Vinogradov, U.S. astronaut Jeffrey Williams and Brazilian astronaut Marcus Pontes, the Mission Control outside Moscow said. The Soyuz is expected to dock with the ISS on Saturday.

"The Soyuz TMA-8 separated from the Soyuz-FG booster at 6:39 a.m. Moscow time (0239 GMT) and has reached the calculated orbit," Mission Control spokesman Valery Lyndin said, quoted by the Itar-Tass news agency.

The astronauts are feeling well, the Mission Control said.

Vinogradov and Williams will replace Russian cosmonaut Valery Tokarev and U.S. astronaut William McArthur, who have been working on the station since October. During their six-month mission, they are expected to make four spacewalks -- two on the Russian program and two on the U.S. program -- and conduct about 50 experiments in space.

Pontes, Brazil's first astronaut, will carry out a series of scientific experiments during his nine-day stay on the orbiting lab and return with the outgoing ISS crew on April 9. He is taking with him a Brazilian national flag and a T-shirt of Brazil's national football team.

Russia's space program has been the space station's lifeline for three years since U.S. space shuttle Columbia disintegrated returning to Earth in February 2003, which prompted the grounding of all U.S. space shuttles.

U.S. shuttle Discovery briefly visited the station in July 2005, but problems with the insulation foam forced U.S. space agency NASA to ground the shuttle fleet one more time.

NASA decided earlier this month to postpone the launch of space shuttle Discovery, originally scheduled for May 10, to at least July. A malfunctioning fuel tank sensor was said to have caused the delay.

The next opportunity to launch Discovery to the ISS will be between July 1 and 19. The postponement could further delay the multinational orbital construction of the space station, which depends on U.S. space shuttles.

Source: Xinhua

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