Trio of space travellers blast off for rendezvous with space station

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HANDOUT - Father Sergei, a Russian Orthodox priest, blesses a Soyuz rocket on Thursday, a day before its launch from Kazakhstan to rendezvous with the International Space Station. The capsule, carrying three astronauts, took off successfully from the Baikonur spaceport on Friday. Photo: Bill Ingalls/NASA/dpa - ATTENTION: editorial use only and only if the credit mentioned above is referenced in full
HANDOUT - Father Sergei, a Russian Orthodox priest, blesses a Soyuz rocket on Thursday, a day before its launch from Kazakhstan to rendezvous with the International Space Station. The capsule, carrying three astronauts, took off successfully from the Baikonur spaceport on Friday. Photo: Bill Ingalls/NASA/dpa - ATTENTION: editorial use only and only if the credit mentioned above is referenced in full

(dpa) – Three astronauts are on their way to the International Space Station (ISS) after their rocket took off punctually from the Russian spaceport Baikonur on Friday.

According to the Russian space agency Roscosmos, the launch vehicle Soyuz 2.1a lifted off at 0742 GMT from a site in the Central Asian Republic of Kazakhstan. Weather conditions were sunny.

On board are cosmonauts Oleg Novitsky and Pyotr Dubrov and NASA astronaut Mark T Vande Hei. Commentators covering the launch on TV said they had been told the trio was well.

If everything goes according to plan, it will take just more than three hours for them to reach humanity’s most far-flung staffed outpost.

There are currently seven crew members on the ISS about 400 kilometres above the Earth: in addition to two cosmonauts from Russia, there are four astronauts from the US and one from Japan.
Three of them are due to fly back to Earth in a week.

At the end of the month, a rocket from the US company SpaceX is scheduled to set off for the ISS from the US state of Florida.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the launch in Baikonur required members of the team to isolate themselves and to follow other hygiene regulations designed to keep the virus from reaching the orbiting crew.

In memory of the first man in space 60 years ago, the rocket bears the name Yuri Gagarin. The cosmonaut took off from Baikonur on April 12, 1961. The launch pad from which he took off is currently being renovated.

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