BAIKONUR, Kazakhstan: Astronauts from Russia, Japan and the United States Thursday docked successfully with the International Space Station under six hours after they launched, NASA television showed.
The Soyuz TMA 17M rocket—carrying cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, US astronaut Kjell Lindgren and Kimiya Yui of Japan had roared skyward from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in the barren Kazakh steppe at 2102 GMT.
After a fly-around at around 350 meters, the rocket maneuvered to rendezvous with the ISS at 10:46 EST (0246 GMT Thursday).
“We have contact,” a NASA announcer said, as the craft soared high above the coast of Ecuador, 402 kilometers over the Pacific.
One solar array—a type of power supply that captures energy from the sun—did not deploy on time, but this did not affect the rocket’s flight as the others were still operating, the US space agency said.
Scientists and space enthusiasts around the world were watching the launch closely, and with some concern, since the mission had been delayed by two months because of a Russian rocket failure.
Russia was in May forced to put all space travel on hold after the unmanned Progress freighter taking cargo to the ISS crashed back to Earth in late April.
The doomed ship lost contact with Earth and burned up in the atmosphere. The failure, which Russia has blamed on a problem in a Soyuz rocket, also forced a group of astronauts to spend an extra month aboard the ISS.
Russian officials earlier breathed a sigh of relief, with the space agency Roscosmos saying that the third stage of the Soyuz rocket separated on time and the crew were “feeling well.”
“Everything is okay, everything is according to plan,” said veteran cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin, providing live commentary of the liftoff on television.
A workhorse of space that dates back to the Cold War, the Soyuz is used for manned and unmanned flights.