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Soyuz Rocket Launches Flawlessly, Weeks After Malfunction

Category: Science & Tech,Space & Cosmos

MOSCOW — An American, a Canadian and a Russian blasted into orbit on Monday in the first launch of a piloted Russian Soyuz rocket since a dramatic failure in October, when a booster failed to separate smoothly and the crew plummeted to Earth in an emergency return.

As Soyuz rockets are now the only means for astronauts to reach the International Space Station, Monday’s launch was closely watched. Had the rocket not reached orbit, the station might have been left unoccupied for a time.

But the rocket lifted off from the Baikonur spaceport in Kazakhstan on a tongue of flame and flew into space without a hitch, live video of the launch showed.

“Everything is fine on board,” the Russian commander, Oleg Kononenko, radioed back at one point.

About two minutes into the fight, the boosters separated as planned, passing the point where the rocket had failed during the launch on Oct. 11. Russian cosmonauts call this stage of flight the “Korolev Cross,” after the Soviet rocket designer Sergei Korolev and the cross-shaped trails of smoke formed if the four boosters separate cleanly and spiral away, as happened Monday.

After October’s mishap, in which an American and a Russian made a harrowing emergency return, the Russian space agency concluded that a single small part — a pin — had been improperly installed and caused the failure.

In addition to Mr. Kononenko, a veteran cosmonaut making his fourth trip to space, the Soyuz carried Anne McClain from the United States and David Saint-Jacques from Canada, both first-time space travelers. The crew plans to dock with the International Space Station about six hours after the launch and to live in orbit for six months.

The three current inhabitants — Alexander Gerst of Germany, Serena Auñón-Chancellor of the United States, and Sergey Prokopyev of Russia — plan to return on Dec. 20 aboard a Soyuz module that has been docked to the station since June.

The two Russians plan a spacewalk to examine the exterior of that capsule, after an incident in August when a hole was discovered in its hull.

The Russian space agency has said the hole was deliberately drilled in an act of sabotage, though it is unclear whether this happened before launch or in orbit. The capsule launched in June, but the air began leaking only in August; if the hole were drilled on Earth, it must have been filled with a sealant that later broke down and was sucked into the vacuum of space.

During their spacewalk, planned for Dec. 11, Mr. Kononenko and Mr. Prokopyev plan to remove an exterior panel and examine it for traces of sealant in what Russians have called a mid-orbit investigation. The shield will be brought into the station and later returned to Earth, Russian space officials said.

The examination has to be conducted in space, as the portion of the Soyuz ship with the hole is designed to separate and burn during re-entry, meaning it cannot be examined on the ground.

Russian news outlets have speculated wildly about NASA astronauts sabotaging the Russian capsule. The United States commander of the International Space Station at the time denied the accusations.


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