The Russian Soyuz rocket carrying cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov
and Oleg Artemyev and NASA astronaut Steven Swanson lifted off at
5:17 p.m. EDT from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
The trip to the space station, a $100 billion research laboratory
that flies about 260 miles above Earth, was scheduled to take about
six hours. However, an unknown problem caused the crew's Soyuz
capsule to skip two planned steering maneuvers, delaying the crew's
arrival until Thursday.
"The crew is in no danger. The Soyuz (is) equipped with plenty of
consumables to go even beyond the next two days, should that be
become necessary. Nobody expects that that will be the case,"
mission commentator Rob Navias said during a NASA Television
Russian flight controllers expect to get more information about why
the Soyuz's thrusters failed to fire when the capsule flies over
ground communications stations later on Tuesday.
"Initial information indicates the problem may have been the
spacecraft was not in the proper orientation for the burn," NASA
said in a status report posted on its website.
Russia's state television channel Rossiya-24 quoted national space
agency Roscosmos as saying the flight of the Soyuz spaceship was now
taking place "in a reserve mode" after its orientation engines
failed to ignite.
"It's all normal on board," it said.
Docking was tentatively retargeted for 7:58 p.m. EDT on Thursday.
Several hours before the docking, Soyuz will make a final emergency
maneuver to enter the orbit of the space station, RIA news agency
quoted a Russian space official as saying.
The arrival of Skvortsov, Artemyev and Swanson will return the
station to a full six-member crew. The orbital outpost, a project of
15 nations, has been short-staffed since two other cosmonauts and a
NASA astronaut returned to Earth on March 11.
The space station partnership, overseen by the United States and
Russia, so far has been immunized from the political and economic
fallout following Russia's invasion of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula.
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"We don't want to see political turmoil and it could ultimately get
in the way of our spaceflight, but from the operator standpoint ...
this is absolutely a non-issue for us," NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman,
who is due to fly to the station in May, said in a CBS News
interview on March 18.
"I mean, we're three really good friends climbing into a Soyuz
(capsule) to fly into space. All politics aside, there's no doubt
it's going to work for us," Wiseman said.
The United States currently pays Russia more than $63 million per
seat to fly its astronauts to and from the space station.
The Russian part of the station taps electricity generated by
U.S.-owned and operated solar wing panels and supplements its
ground-based communications with NASA's orbital satellite network,
among other U.S.-provided services.
One of the first orders of business for the newly arriving station
crewmembers will be to capture and berth a Space Exploration
Technologies' Dragon cargo capsule, which is due to launch on Sunday
from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
Two Russian spacewalks are planned during the crew's six-month
mission, as well as two or three outings overseen by NASA.
(Additional reporting by Maria Kiselyova in Moscow and Dmitry
Solovyov in Almaty; editing by Eric Walsh)
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