US-Russian crew blasts off to International Space Station

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BAIKONUR, Kazakhstan | A Russian-American crew of three has blasted off to the International Space Station, making a second attempt to reach the outpost after October’s aborted launch.

A Russian Soyuz rocket carrying NASA astronauts Nick Hague and Christina Koch along with Roscosmos’ Alexei Ovchinin lifted off as planned from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 12:14 a.m. Friday (1914 GMT Thursday).

U.S. astronauts Christina Hammock Koch, centre, Nick Hague, above, and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin, crew members of the mission to the International Space Station, ISS, wave as they board to the rocket prior the launch of Soyuz-FG rocket at the Russian leased Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, Thursday, March 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Kyrill Kudryavtsev, Pool)

Their Soyuz MS-12 spacecraft reached a designated orbit about nine minutes after the launch, and the crew reported they were feeling fine and all systems on board were operating normally. They are set to dock at the space station in about six hours.

On Oct. 11, a Soyuz that Hague and Ovchinin were riding in failed two minutes into its flight, activating a rescue system that allowed their capsule to land safely. That accident was the first aborted crew launch for the Russian space program since 1983, when two Soviet cosmonauts safely jettisoned after a launch pad explosion.

Speaking at a pre-launch news conference at Baikonur, the crew said they trust the rocket and fully believe in the success of their mission.

“I’m 100 percent confident in the rocket and the spacecraft deliver us to the space station and bring us home safely,” Hague said. “The events from October only helped to solidify that and boost confidence in the vehicle to do its job.”

The trio will join NASA’s Anne McClain, Roscosmos’ Oleg Kononenko and David Saint-Jacques of the Canadian Space Agency who are currently on the space station. They will conduct work on hundreds of experiments in biology, biotechnology, physical science and Earth science.