MOSCOW (AP) — A Soyuz spacecraft carrying two Russians and an American lifted off early Thursday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, soaring into the night sky for a six-hour trip to the International Space Station. Their six-month mission will include a spacewalk with the Olympic torch.
NASA's Michael Hopkins and Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov and Sergei Ryazansky will orbit the Earth four times in the cramped capsule before docking at the orbiting outpost.
Live coverage provided by NASA TV showed the launch went off as scheduled shortly before 1 a.m. Moscow time on Thursday (2100GMT, 5 p.m. EDT Wednesday). Less than 10 minutes into the flight, a NASA commentator said the Soyuz had reached orbit after an "uneventful and successful" launch from the cosmodrome, which Russia leases in Kazakhstan.
During a spacewalk in November, the two Russians will have the honor of taking the Olympic torch into open space as part of the relay of the Olympic flame ahead of the Winter Games being held in Sochi in February. The torch will not be lit, however, because of safety concerns and will only arrive at the station in November with the next crew.
"We will take a picture of it with the space station in the background, with the Earth in the background, and we will try to make sure that we see Russia, and maybe Sochi where the Olympic Games will take place," Kotov, a veteran of two previous six-month missions, said in an interview posted on NASA's website.