Soyuz rocket takes off for International Space Station

Kazakh, Danish and Russian astronauts launch 'Soyuz' into space

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

Kazakhstan cosmonaut Aydyn Aimbetov (C), Russian cosmonaut Sergei Volkov and Danish astronaut Andreas Mogensen (top) wave as they board the Soyuz TMA-18M spacecraft on September 2, 2015.

Updated Sep 4, 2015

A Soyuz spacecraft with three astronauts on board, including the first Dane to fly into space, blasted off towards the International Space Station on Wednesday.

"The crew is doing well, everything is in order onboard," relayed mission control. The trio launched on schedule at 0437 GMT from the same launchpad in Kazakhstan used by Yuri Gagarin on his historic entry into the cosmos in 1961.

Veteran cosmonaut Sergei Volkov of the Russian space agency Roscosmos is leading a team that also includes first-time flyers Aidyn Aimbetov from Kazakhstan's space agency and Denmark's Andreas Mogensen of the European Space Agency.

They are expected to make the journey to the ISS in two days, docking on Friday at 0742 GMT.

They did not take the shorter six-hour route used in the most recent manned launch from Baikonur in July and in a number of previous successful launches.

Russia's space agency acting chief Alexander Ivanov, quoted by Interfax news agency, said the two-day route was chosen as "the safest and most reliable."

The take-off marked the 500th launch from the Gagarin launchpad named after the Soviet space pioneer.

Volkov will stay on at the ISS for 188 days, while both Aimbetov and Mogensen will return to Earth next week after 10 days.

Mogensen is the first Dane to enter space. "It's a great honour for me to represent Denmark as an astronaut," Mogensen said last month.

Aimbetov, who replaced British singer Sarah Brightman after she pulled out of the mission in June, is the third astronaut from his country, which hosts Russia's cosmodrome.

The Soyuz TMA-18M spacecraft carrying three astronauts, including the first Danish citizen ever to fly into space, launches towards the International Space Station

Brightman, a 55-year-old soprano known for her roles in Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals, pulled out of her plan to fly as a space tourist on the flight for a fee of $52 million, citing family reasons.

- Lego and horse milk -

Mogensen, 38, will be joined by 26 custom-made Lego models of astronauts provided especially for the mission by the world-famous Danish toy manufacturer, as well as the writing of Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard.

Aimbetov, 43, took dried horse milk and several other national staples from the Central Asian country into space with him as well as a toy from his daughter, who said she hoped he would encounter alien life.

At a press conference ahead of the flight on Tuesday, Kazakhstan's Deputy Prime Minister Berdibek Saparbaev noted that Volkov's own cosmonaut father Alexander Volkov accompanied the first-ever Kazakh cosmonaut to enter space, Toktar Aubakirov, on a 1991 mission.

"Now you have continued this line by becoming the commander of the crew in which our Aidyn Aimbetov is flying."

The launch from Baikonur is the first since July 23, when Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko and US astronaut Kjell Lindgren and Japan's Kimiya Yui blasted off into space.

Prior to that, Russia had put all space travel on hold after the failure of the unmanned Progress freighter in late April. The doomed ship lost contact with Earth and burned up in the atmosphere, forcing a group of astronauts to spend an extra month on the ISS.

In May, another Russian spacecraft, a Proton-M rocket carrying a Mexican satellite, malfunctioned and crashed in Siberia soon after its launch.

Space travel is one of the few facets of international cooperation between Russia and the West that has remained unaffected by the Ukraine crisis.