US astronaut Dan Burbank has blasted off on a mission to the International Space Station (ISS), becoming the first American to use Russia’s Soyuz rocket to get into space following the ending of NASA’s space shuttle program. Burbank is accompanied by two Russian astronauts, Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin.
The launch was delayed by a couple of months following August’s crash of an unmanned Progress cargo ship, which raised questions about Russia’s space program. Those doubts intensified last week when the much-vaunted Phobos-Grunt probe, which was supposed to head to Mars, failed after launch. Phobos-Grunt is expected to crash back down to Earth later this month.
The three crew currently on the ISS are scheduled to return to Earth on November 21st, after which three more astronauts will go up in early December to bring the crew back up to the standard compliment of six. Andy Burbank, who went up on the Soyuz launched from Kazakhstan this week, is going to take over as commander of the space station.