Astronauts launch in Soyuz rocket for first time since botched takeoff

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Anne McClain of NASA, Oleg Kononenko of Roscosmos and David Saint-Jacques of the Canadian Space Agency before their Soyuz flight

Anne McClain of NASA, Oleg Kononenko of Roscosmos and David Saint-Jacques of the Canadian Space Agency before their Soyuz flight

NASA/Victor Zelentsov

Normal service has resumed for Soyuz spaceflights – the only craft that can now carry humans to and from the International Space Station (ISS). Three astronauts launched today for the first time since a botched launch forced two astronauts to make an emergency landing on 11 October.

The rocket took off from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 11:31 GMT, carrying astronauts from Russia, USA and Canada to the ISS.

All Soyuz flights were suspended after the October crash, leaving three astronauts at the ISS uncertain when they would be able to return to Earth.

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On 1 November, the Russian space agency Roscosmos announced that the malfunction was caused by a sensor that was damaged during assembly of the rocket. The deformed sensor meant that a nozzle lid failed to open, resulting in the abnormal separation of a strap-on booster. The booster hit the core stage in the fuel tank area, causing it to decompress and the rocket to lose its altitude control.

Roscosmos said it has developed measures to prevent a repeat of the malfunction. The three crew members already at the ISS are now scheduled to return on 20 December, just a week later than planned.

NASA is hoping that capsules made by Boeing and SpaceX will be able to take over missions to and from the ISS, ending its reliance on Russia’s Soyuz. But delays and budget cuts mean that these spacecraft won’t be ready until mid-2019 at the earliest.

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