American, two Russians take shortcut to space

An American and two Russians blasted off Thursday for the International Space Station atop a Soyuz rocket that will slash more than a day off the usual travel time.

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Michael Hopkins of NASA and Oleg Kotov and Sergei Ryazansky of Russia took off without a hitch from the Baikonur space centre that Moscow leases from Central Asia’s ex-Soviet republic of Kazakhstan.

The capsule will only orbit the Earth four times as opposed to the usual 30 under a technique originally devised in the Soviet era but only adopted on a regular basis in the past year.

Scientists and space travellers had long weighed the benefits of such a sprint run.

The longer flight allows crew members to get better acclimated to the stresses of space while also testing their physical endurance — the ride takes a full 48 hours.

The shortcuts were abandoned after a few trial runs by the Soviet Union because one cosmonaut because so violently ill during the voyage that mission control at one point feared for his life.

But two such quick trips were successfully completed earlier this year and Russia decided to repeat the experience with a view to making them standard for future travel to the ISS.

The latest mission will be highlighted by the expected November 7 stopover on the ISS of a torch — left unlit for safety reasons — used during the relay ceremony for the 2014 Olympic Winter Games that Russia will be hosting in the port city of Sochi.

The new team will be joining Russian commander Fyodor Yurchikhin and his two flight engineers — Karen Nyberg of NASA and Italian Luca Parmitano of the European Space Agency.

The Soyuz TMA-10M capsule is scheduled to dock to the ISS at 0248 GMT.

Source: AFP

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