US-Russian crew blasts off for space station

MOSCOW (AP) ? A Russian spacecraft carrying an American and two Russians blasted off successfully Monday from the Kazakh steppes on a mission to the International Space Station.

The Soyuz TMA-22 lifted off as scheduled at 8:14 a.m. (0414 GMT) Monday from the snow-covered Russian-leased Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. It is carrying NASA astronaut Dan Burbank and Russians Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin and is set to dock at the station Wednesday.

The launch had been put off for two months following the crash of an unmannned Progress cargo ship in August. The rocket that launched it used the same upper stage as the booster rockets carrying Soyuz ships to orbit, and its failure raised concerns about crew safety.

Russian space officials traced the Progress launch failure to a manufacturing flaw and conducted a rigorous inspection of all Soyuz rockets. A successful launch of a Progress ship last month cleared the way for the crew to be launched.

“We have no black thoughts and full confidence in our technology,” Shkaplerov told journalists before the launch.

The new crew was to arrive just in time to keep the orbiting station manned. The three crew members currently on board the station are set to return to Earth on Nov. 21. If the replacement 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 spacecraft serves as the only link to the station after 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, who will take over command of the space station, is a veteran of 12-day shuttle missions in 2000 and 2006. The three men are to remain aboard the space station until March.