Russian craft set to blast off on delayed mission

AP News
Posted: Nov 13, 2011 9:48 AM
Russian craft set to blast off on delayed mission

A Russian cosmonaut says the three-man U.S.-Russian crew are thinking positively as they prepare to blast off on a delayed mission to the International Space Station.

The mission had been delayed for two months after the failed launch of an unmanned Progress cargo ship in August. The failure was blamed on a manufacturing flaw and cast doubt on the future of manned flights because the upper stage of the Soyuz booster rocket that carries the cargo ships into orbit is similar to that used to launch astronauts.

The way was cleared after another Progress lifted off successfully on Oct. 30.

"We have no black thoughts and full confidence in our technology," cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov told journalists at the Russian-leased Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, where he, fellow Russian Anatoly Ivanishin and NASA astronaut Dan Burbank were preparing for the launch.

Their Soyuz craft is to lift off early Monday (0414 GMT, 11:14 p.m. EST Sunday) and dock at the International Space Station two days later.

They are to arrive just in time to keep the orbiting station manned. The three crew members there are returning to Earth on Nov. 21 and if the new crew had not launched in time the station would have had to have been abandoned temporarily for the first time in nearly 11 years.

The Russian Soyuz spacecraft serve as the only link to the space station now that NASA retired the space shuttle in July.

The 39-year-old Shkaplerov and 42-year-old Ivanishin are making their first flights into space. Burbank, 50, will take over command of the space station and is a veteran of 12-day shuttle missions in 2000 and 2006. The three men are to remain aboard the space station until March.