A Russian Soyuz rocket carrying a three-man crew bound for the International Space Station blasted off on Wednesday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, a NASA TV broadcast showed.
The 16-story rocket lifted off at 5:02 p.m. EDT (2102 GMT) to deliver veteran Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko and rookie astronauts Kjell Lindgren with NASA and Japan’s Kimiya Yui into orbit. They are due to reach the station, a $100 billion research laboratory that flies about 260 miles (418 km) above Earth, at 10:46 p.m. EDT (0246 GMT).
The trio had been set to fly in May, but Russia delayed the mission after a botched launch of a similar Soyuz rocket on April 28. That accident stranded a Progress cargo ship in an orbit too low to reach the station. Nine days later, the capsule, loaded with three tons of equipment and supplies, fell back into Earth’s atmosphere and was incinerated.
Accident investigators determined that the Progress failed to separate properly from the Soyuz rocket’s third-stage engine. The Soyuz returned to flight on July 3, successfully launching a replacement load of cargo to the station.
“We’re confident in the rocket … we’re all very excited to launch,” Lindgren, 42, told a pre-launch news conference.
Two U.S. companies that fly cargo to the station under contract with the U.S. space agency also lost capsules after recent failed launches. Privately owned SpaceX and Orbital ATK remain grounded following accidents last month and in October 2014, respectively.
A fourth station resupply line is operated by Japan, which is scheduled to fly again in August.
“It’s certainly no fun to see several of the cargo vehicles undergo mishaps,” Lindgren said. “It underscores the difficulty of this industry and … how unforgiving the space environment is.”
The arrival of Lindgren, Kononenko, 51, and Yui, 45, will return the space station to a full six-member crew for the first time in six weeks.
“We look forward to seeing them,” U.S. station flight engineer Scott Kelly said during an inflight interview on Tuesday.
Kelly and Russia’s Mikhail Kornienko are participating in the station’s first year-long duration mission. Also aboard is veteran cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, the current station commander.