Baikonur (Kazakhstan): Three astronauts today blasted off for the International Space Station in a spaceship named after the first man in space Yuri Gagarin in
honour of his historic flight 50 years ago.
The two Russians and one American left on a Soyuzrocket from the main launchpad at Russia's Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, the same location where Gagarin went on his historic space mission on April 12, 1961.
The flight in the early hours of the morning left a bright beam of light against the background of the clear starry sky over the vast Kazakh steppe.
Their mission has been dedicated to Gagarin's flight -- which gave the Soviet Union its greatest Cold War victory over the United States -- and their Soyuz capsule is named after and even inscribed with the name of the cosmonaut.
"The flight is normal," mission control told the crew, who waved and gave the thumbs-up sign to a camera relaying images from the capsule back to Earth.
Cosmonauts Alexander Samokutyaev and Andrei Borisenko are making their first space flight while US astronaut Ronald Garan is making his second mission, having already flown on US shuttle Discovery in 2008.
"We are feeling good," said the voice of one of the crew, apparently flight commander Samokutyaev. "I wish you success and a good flight," said the head of Russia's space agency, Anatoly Perminov.
As well as his name, the exterior of the Soyuz capsule is decorated with a picture of Gagarin in his iconic space suit and also the famous "Let's Go!" slogan he pronounced at blast off in 1961.
The craft successfully went into Earth orbit and is due to dock with the ISS at 2318 GMT on Wednesday, after a two-day journey.
The mission is a centerpiece of celebrations for the half century of manned spaceflight and there had been worries it could miss the anniversary after a technical problem forced a delay from the original March 30 lift-off date.
First Published: Wednesday, April 06, 2011, 00:21