Soyuz crew blasts off to ISS

2010-12-16 10:26
The Soyuz TMA-20 rocket launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. (Nasa, Carla Cioffi, AP)

The Soyuz TMA-20 rocket launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. (Nasa, Carla Cioffi, AP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

  • NASA
    The USA accelerated the space race in 1958 by forming NASA. Eager readers will learn about the... Now R441.00
    buy now

Baikonur - Astronauts from the US, Russia and Italy blasted off into the darkness early on Thursday, casting a warm orange glow over the chilly plains of Kazakhstan with their Soyuz spacecraft as they began a mission to the International Space Station.

Russia's Dmitry Kondratyev, Nasa astronaut Catherine Coleman and the European Space Agency's Paolo Nespoli of Italy rode into space on the Soyuz TMA-20, which plans to dock at the orbiting laboratory on Friday.

Family and colleagues of the crew waited nervously before the launch, which kicked off with a piercing white flash succeeded by a roaring wall of sound.

Within seconds, the rocket seemed little more than a blur of incandescent flames fading into the distance.

Officials at the viewing platform gave status updates at 20-second intervals over loudspeakers until reaching the nine-minute mark, indicating the ship had reached the relative safety of orbit, prompting a lively round of cheers.

At that moment, a plush toy tiger that Coleman brought as the crew's mascot began floating in front of her, signaling the beginning of weightlessness as the spaceship reached an altitude of more than 200km above Earth, according to Nasa television footage.

The flight caps a decade of manned missions to the space station, which began in October 2000.

Departure delayed

The departure of the Soyuz had been pushed back several days due the last-minute replacement of its re-entry module, which had been damaged during unloading earlier this year at the Baikonur cosmodrome in the Central Asian steppes.

Replacing a key module so late in the launch schedule had caused some apprehension, although Kondratyev shrugged such worries off at a final press conference.

"All the procedures needed to check the integrity of the ship have been completed, and all those have shown positive results," Kondratyev said.

Following the Russian space agency's rigorously timed launch routine, the astronauts left the hotel that had been their home for the last two weeks seven hours before the launch, boarding a bus to the strains of a Soviet-era rock song.

After suiting up, carrying their suit-cooling equipment in one hand, the three gave a final salute to Russian Federal Space Agency chief Anatoly Perminov, then headed to the launch pad, past a scrum of photographers and relatives waving goodbye.

As the crew squeezed into the spaceship's tight three-person berth, technicians ran final tests to ensure the integrity of the craft.

Among the crowd at the viewing platform was Coleman's backup, Mike Fossum, who said he was elated - if a little jealous - to see his colleague set off for space.

"We've been running along the river outside of Baikonur, she'd step on some ice and I'd say: 'Get away, if you fall in, they'll blame me,"' Fossum joked.

As one of the tallest astronauts ever to go to space, the two-day trip will likely prove uncomfortable for the 1.92m tall Nespoli, who has described riding in the Soyuz as similar to squeezing into a small car.

The launch took off from the same pad where Russia's Yuri Gagarin blasted off in 1961 on his mission to become the first human in space. The crew will be at the space station in April to mark the 50th anniversary of that mission.

New era

International space operations will enter a new phase next year after the US shuttle fleet is mothballed. Two more shuttle missions are planned, after which the Soyuz will be the only vehicle available to transport crews to the orbiting laboratory.

Russia profited handsomely from that monopolist position when it signed contracts for carrying Nasa astronauts to the space station up to the end of 2014. A round-trip ticket to the space station in 2011 and 2012 will cost Nasa as much as $51m, up from the current $26m. The price will jump to $56m in 2013 and 2014.

The White House wants Nasa focused on next-generation rockets and spacecraft that could carry astronauts to asteroids and Mars, and hopes to rely on private business to develop craft capable of ferrying cargo and crew to the space station. Last week, Space Exploration Technologies Corp. of Hawthorne, California, conducted a second test launch of its Dragon capsule, and safely guided it back to Earth for the first time.

The company plans to send the Dragon to the space station next summer and then build its piloted version to deliver crews there.

Russia's Federal Space Agency chief Anatoly Perminov welcomed the Dragon's success, saying Wednesday it would alleviate the burden of Russia's space program. "This will be very good for Russia, because by having a reserve vehicle, we will free up our own resources," he said.

Reflecting the increasingly international flavor of space missions, the three astronauts flying Thursday all come from different countries - a development hailed by Nespoli.

"If we want to keep going on with this exploration, going back to the moon or Mars ... we need to put together all the resources that are around the world," he said.

Taking to Twitter

Nespoli's family and friends watched the takeoff from his hometown in Verano Brianza, near Milan, where his two young nieces held up a sign saying "You have wings - Fly!" Nespoli's sister Antonella said he had told his family Wednesday: "Please, make a great party."

And there are other benefits of global cooperation in space, said veteran French astronaut Michel Tognini, who heads the European Astronaut Centre.

"If at one point one partner has a weakness - financing or technical - another can help out. The fact we are international is a plus," he said.

Despite all the bonhomie, national differences may persist on the space station when it comes to culinary tastes.

Nespoli has been churning out a steady stream of Twitter messages, including one jokingly complaining about a recent breakfast in Baikonur of over-boiled pasta and chicken.

"As Italians, we have a very strict way of eating, and that breakfast broke every single rule that we have," Nespoli told reporters.

The astronaut also told the ANSA news agency that he planned to transmit Twitter updates from the space station as "AstroPaolo."

In his final tweet before leaving for his mission to space, Nespoli wrote in Italian: "To fly, oh, to sing. Let us follow our dreams together! See you soon..."

- AP

Read more on:    nasa  |  european space agency  |  kazakhstan  |  space

Read News24’s Comments Policy publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining

Inside News24


Numsa prepares for life after Cosatu

Numsa has not only reiterated its call for President Jacob Zuma to resign but it is also preparing for life outside of Cosatu, a report states.


Latest elections multimedia

Why Jack Parow wants you to vote on 7 May
The ad the SABC doesn't want to air
Elections 2014 in one cartoon
This year's election posters
  • Thursday Sir Lowry's Pass - 05:35 AM
    Road name: Old Sir Lowrys Pass Road
    TRAFFIC LIGHTS not working at Bezweni Road
  • Thursday Cape Town - 05:35 AM
    Road name: Buitengracht Street
    TRAFFIC LIGHTS not working at Waterkant Street
More traffic reports...

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Escape winter, head to Mauritius

Escape winter by spending 7 nights in Mauritius' tropical bliss from R13 215 per person sharing. Includes return flights, airport transfers and accommodation. Book now! - shop online today

Get many eggs in one basket!

Gaming bundles: 2 Super Hits games for R99, 3 Disney games for R99 and more + exclusive accessory bundles only available on While stocks last. Shop now!

25% off bestselling books!

The Real Meal Revolution by Tim Noakes, Jeffrey Archer’s Be Careful What You Wish for, Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor E. Frank and many more titles. Shop now!

Up to 25% off electronics

Buy top electronics and save up to 25%. Such as’s 1# selling product the gobii eReader, Patriot X Porter flash drive, Asus Nexus 7” 3G tablet, Samsung Galaxy SIII, Lenovo G580 Notebook and many more. Shop now!

DStv HD PVR Decoder now R949

The DStv HD PVR Decoder has further revolutionised the television experience with lifelike viewing, sharper images, more vibrant colours and precision picture quality. Now R949, save R550. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Up to 30% off appliances & homeware

Save up to 30% on appliances and homeware this Easter! Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now.

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

Samsung Galaxy Tab P7500 10.1" Tablet With WiFi & 3G

Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 gives you a better experience for...

From R4999.00

I'm shopping for:


You may be good at organising events but they do take their toll on your energy levels. You may need some time out today just more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.