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international space station

Elon Musk’s rocket company, SpaceX, launched four more astronauts into orbit on the Crew Dragon capsule on April 27.

The crew includes Jessica Watkins, who becomes the first black woman to serve on an extended mission on the International Space Station (ISS).

In orbit, the crew will work on science experiments and space station maintenance.

According to NASA, experiments will include studies on “the aging of immune systems, organic material concrete alternatives, and cardiorespiratory effects during and after long-duration exposure to microgravity”.

Crew-3, after handing over to the new Crew-4, will return from space on their Crew Dragon capsule in September, shortly after SpaceX launches its Crew-5 mission.

Image source: Wikipedia

Jessica Watkins, 33, and three other astronauts rocketed into space from the Kennedy Space Center on Merritt Island, Florida at 3:52AM EDT.

In November 2021, NASA announced Jessica Watkins would be the fourth and final seat on Crew Dragon for SpaceX’s Crew-4 mission.

The assignment meant Jessica Watkins would be the first Black woman to join an ISS crew for scientific research, station maintenance, training and more over a six-month period. Previously, Victor Glover, part of SpaceX’s Crew-2 mission that launched in November 2020, became the first Black astronaut to join a station crew.

Dragon Capsule: SpaceX Launches First Demo Mission from Kennedy Space Center

SpaceX Dragon Capsule Successfully Attached to the International Space Station

Out of 248 astronauts who have visited the ISS, only seven have been Black and none were included in expeditions lasting several months.

In 1983, Guion Bluford became the first Black astronaut to travel to space. Mae Jemison followed nine years later and became the first Black woman to do the same.

In 2021, NASA also announced that Jessica Watkins was chosen for the Artemis program that aims to put astronauts back on the moon no later than 2025.

The April 27 flight sent NASA’s Bob Hines, Kjell Lindgren and the European Space Agency’s Samantha Cristoforetti to orbit.

They’re expected to dock at the ISS at 8:15PM EDT if schedules hold.

President Donald Trump’s budget proposal has unveiled his plans to end US funding for the International Space Station (ISS) by 2025 with the aim of putting it into private hands.

He also wants to increase NASA spending by 3% next year.

However, the budget proposal includes $150 million to “encourage commercial development” at ISS to replace American payments.

The space station is scheduled to operate through 2024.

Image source Wikipedia

Second Shutdown 2018: Congress Votes to Pass Two-Year Budget

The White House proposal, which was released on February 12, says: “The budget proposes to end direct US financial support for the International Space Station in 2025, after which NASA would rely on commercial partners for its low Earth orbit research and technology demonstration requirements.”

According to the document, the US government would create a $150 million program to help prepare private companies to take over space station operations over the next seven years.

The budget requests $19.6 billion for NASA in 2019, an increase of $500 million from this year.

According to a NASA review, it also calls for $10.5 billion for “an innovative and sustainable campaign of exploration” leading to “the return of humans to the moon for long-term exploration and utilization followed by human missions to Mars and other destinations”.

The Soyuz space capsule has arrived to the International Space Station (ISS).

British astronaut Tim Peake and fellow crew members Russian Yuri Malenchenko and American Tim Kopra, docked with the ISS high above the Earth.

The crew controlled the approach manually, after complications with the usual automatic docking procedure.

Tim Peake is making history as the first official UK astronaut.

He was waved off by his wife and two sons at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan earlier on the day.

The launch was from the same place where Yuri Gagarin became the first human in space in 1961.

There were no reported problems during the blast-off.

However, docking with the space station – which is regarded as one of the most difficult stages of the journey – did not go entirely to plan when the crew had to steer the spacecraft in manually.Soyuz docked to ISS

The docking happened about 10 minutes after its scheduled time of 17:24 GMT.

It takes four orbits of Earth and about six hours to reach the ISS.

Having arrived safely, the team will have to wait around two hours before they can leave the capsule to allow safety checks and for the air pressure to be equalized.

In the meantime, the new arrivals will carry out routine checks for leaks.

ESA said the crew reported they were fine and were starting to shut down the spacecraft’s systems as they were no longer needed.

The Soyuz capsule will remain attached to serve as an escape vehicle if the ISS has to be evacuated in an emergency.

Once on board the ISS, the crew will work, sleep and exercise in a dozen modules, together about the same volume as two Boeing 747s.

The three crew members will join the existing taskforce on board the ISS – NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko and Sergey Volkov.

Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko are approaching the ninth month of their one-year ISS mission.

A maximum of 10 crew members can live on the station.

Tim Peake will spend six months on board the ISS where he will conduct scientific experiments and carry out educational projects designed to attract young people into science.

Sarah Brightman has announced she will not be going to the International Space Station (ISS) in September 2015.

The British soprano wrote on her blog that she was postponing the adventure for “personal family reasons”, giving no further explanation.

Sarah Brightman, 54, was due to fly to the ISS on 1 September as a tourist.

When, or even if, Sarah Brightman will get to complete her dream of a 10-day holiday in orbit is not clear.

It is thought such a trip would cost the singer about $50 million.

Photo EPA

Photo EPA

Space Adventures, the company that was organizing Sarah Brightman’s trip, is given only a very limited number of seats on Soyuz rockets to sell to tourists.

Who will take Sarah Brightman’s berth in September is uncertain. It ought to be Sarah Brightman’s back-up – a Japanese executive Satoshi Takamatsu, but Space Adventures has yet to confirm this.

Space Adventures’ Eric Anderson said: “Since 2012, Sarah has shared her story of a lifelong dream to fly to space. Her international fame as the world’s best-selling soprano has enabled her message to circle the globe, inspiring others to pursue their own dreams.

“We’ve seen firsthand her dedication to every aspect of her spaceflight training and to date, has passed all of her training and medical tests. We applaud her determination and we’ll continue to support her as she pursues a future spaceflight opportunity.”

The European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Andreas Mogensen, who was due to join Sarah Brightman in the Soyuz in September, tweeted: “Sad to lose a fantastic crew mate. Best of luck, Sarah.”

Flights to and from the ISS are currently on hold following the failure of a robotic cargo ship in late April.

Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano has described his fear as water began filling his helmet during a spacewalk and he only just made it back into the International Space Station (ISS).

In a blog post Luca Parmitano said water was sloshing around, getting into his eyes and ears.

His spacewalk on July 16 with partner Christopher Cassidy was aborted once mission control heard about the leak.

Barely able to see, Luca Parmitano used his safety cable to get back to the airlock.

“As I move back along my route towards the airlock, I become more and more certain that the water is increasing. I feel it covering the sponge on my earphones and I wonder whether I’ll lose audio contact,” he wrote.

“The water has also almost completely covered the front of my visor, sticking to it and obscuring my vision.,, the water covers my nose – a really awful sensation that I make worse by my vain attempts to move the water by shaking my head.

“By now, the upper part of the helmet is full of water and I can’t even be sure that the next time I breathe I will fill my lungs with air and not liquid.

“To make matters worse, I realize that I can’t even understand which direction I should head in to get back to the airlock. I can’t see more than a few centimetres in front of me, not even enough to make out the handles we use to move around the station.”

Luca Parmitano has described his fear as water began filling his helmet during a ISS spacewalk

Luca Parmitano has described his fear as water began filling his helmet during a ISS spacewalk

As he struggled to hear the voices of Christopher Cassidy and a mission controller, Shane Kimbrough, Luca Parmitano suddenly remembered his safety cable.

“Its cable recoil mechanism has a force of around 3 lbs that will <<pull>> me towards the left. It’s not much, but it’s the best idea I have: to follow the cable to the airlock.”

“I move for what seems like an eternity (but I know it’s just a few minutes). Finally, with a huge sense of relief, I peer through the curtain of water before my eyes and make out the thermal cover of the airlock: just a little further, and I’ll be safe.”

The trouble cropped up barely an hour into what was to be a six-hour spacewalk to perform cabling work and other routine maintenance.

NASA is investigating the incident and has suspended all of its spacewalks until the problem is fixed.

The US space agency says it is also looking more broadly at past operations and maintenance, to ensure the safety of future spacewalks.

However, two Russian cosmonauts aboard the ISS will go on a spacewalk on Thursday, to install a platform for a small optical telescope and do work on a docking assembly. Their spacesuits are very different from the US ones. The ISS currently has a crew of six.

Luca Parmitano, 36, expressed bewilderment about the source of the water, as it did not appear to have come from his drinking flask.

The scare happened during his second spacewalk.

Luca Parmitano became the first Italian to conduct a spacewalk, after arriving at the space station in May.

“Space is a harsh, inhospitable frontier and we are explorers, not colonizers. The skills of our engineers and the technology surrounding us make things appear simple when they are not, and perhaps we forget this sometimes. Better not to forget,” Luca Parmitano concluded in his blog post.

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Japan has launched Kirobo, the world’s first talking robot, into space to serve as companion to astronaut Kochi Wakata who will begin his mission in November.

The android took off from the island of Tanegashima in an unmanned rocket also carrying supplies for crew onboard the International Space Station (ISS).

Measuring 13 inches, Kirobo is due to arrive at the ISS on August 9.

It is part of a study to see how machines can lend emotional support to people isolated over long periods.

The launch of the H-2B rocket was broadcast online by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).

The unmanned rocket is also carrying drinking water, food, clothing and work supplies to the six permanent crew members based at the ISS.

Kirobo’s name derives from the Japanese words for “hope” and “robot”.

Japan has launched Kirobo into space to serve as companion to astronaut Kochi Wakat

Japan has launched Kirobo into space to serve as companion to astronaut Kochi Wakat

The small android weighs about 2.2 lbs and has a wide range of physical motion. Its design was inspired by the legendary animation character Astro Boy.

Kirobo has been programmed to communicate in Japanese and keep records of its conversations with Kochi Wakata who will take over as commander of the ISS later this year.

In addition, it is expected to relay messages from the control room to the astronaut.

“Kirobo will remember Mr. Wakata’s face so it can recognize him when they reunite up in space,” the robot’s developer, Tomotaka Takahashi said.

“I wish for this robot to function as a mediator between a person and machine, or a person and the Internet, and sometimes even between people.”

The biggest challenge was to make the android compatible with space, Tomotaka Takahashi added.

Dozens of tests were carried out over nine months to ensure Kirobo’s reliability.

Kirobo has a twin robot on Earth called Mirata, which will monitor any problems its electronic counterpart may experience in space.

“It’s one small step for me, a giant leap for robots,” Mirata said of the mission last month.

The endeavor is a joint project between Tomotaka Takahashi, car producer Toyota and advertising company Dentsu.

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US astronauts Chris Cassidy and Tom Marshburn are carrying out an emergency spacewalk to fix a leak of ammonia from the International Space Station’s cooling system.

Live video shows Chris Cassidy and Tom Marshburn examining the outside of the craft to search for the escape.

The crew had spotted particles of ammonia drifting away from the laboratory on Thursday.

It is expected the spacewalk, prepared at record short notice, will last around six and a half hours.

Liquid ammonia is used to extract the heat that builds up in electronic systems, dumping that excess energy to space through an array of radiators.

Chris Cassidy and Tom Marshburn are carrying out an emergency spacewalk to fix a leak of ammonia from the ISS's cooling system

Chris Cassidy and Tom Marshburn are carrying out an emergency spacewalk to fix a leak of ammonia from the ISS’s cooling system

NASA says the crew on the ISS are not in any danger.

The leak is coming from the station’s port side, at the far end of the backbone, or truss, structure that holds one of the laboratory’s huge sets of solar arrays.

The astronauts will “inspect and possibly replace” a pump controller box in that area of the space station, according to NASA.

Commander Chris Hadfield reported seeing “a very steady stream of flakes” on Thursday.

“They were coming out cleanly and repeatedly enough that it looked like it was a point source they were coming from,” he added.

It is not the first time that the station’s cooling systems have caused problems.

A very small leak was identified in 2007 in the same location, and a spacewalk was organized in 2012 to reconfigure coolant lines and isolate the problem.

The station currently has a crew of six. Commander Chris Hadfield, a Canadian, is due to leave the platform with American astronaut Tom Marshburn and Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko on Monday.

Commander Chris Hadfield had asked mission controllers if the leak might prevent the undocking of his return capsule. They responded that there was no technical reason why it should, but that engineers would update the crew once they understood the issues more fully.

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The first signs of dark matter, a mysterious component of the Universe, have been observed during a $2 billion experiment on the International Space Station (ISS).

The Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) surveys the sky for high-energy particles, or cosmic rays.

The AMS – a particle physics machine nicknamed the “Space LHC” in reference to the Large Hadron Collider here on Earth – has seen evidence for what could be dark matter colliding with itself in a process known as “annihilation”.

However, astronomers stress that a precise description of this enigmatic cosmic constituent is still some way off.

“It could take a few more years,” said AMS deputy spokesman Roberto Battiston, a professor of physics at the University of Perugia, Italy.

“But the accuracy that AMS is displaying is far greater than past experiments, so we’re getting closer to unveiling the cause of the particle events we’re detecting,” he said.

The AMS has seen evidence for what could be dark matter colliding with itself in a process known as annihilation

The AMS has seen evidence for what could be dark matter colliding with itself in a process known as annihilation

Dark matter accounts for most of the mass in the Universe.

It cannot be seen directly with telescopes, but astronomers know it to be out there because of the gravitational effects it has on the matter we can see.

Galaxies, for example, could not rotate the way they do and hold their shape without the presence of dark matter.

AMS has been hunting for some indirect measures of dark matter’s properties.

It counts the numbers of electrons and their anti-matter counterparts – known as positrons – falling on to a battery of detectors.

Theory suggests that showers of these particles should be produced when dark-matter particles collide somewhere in space and destroy each other.

In a paper in the journal Physical Review Letters, the AMS team reports the observation of a slight excess of positrons in the positron-electron count – an outcome expected of these dark matter annihilations.

The group also says the positrons fall on the AMS from all directions in the sky with no particular variation over time.

This is important because specific locations or timing variations in the signal could indicate a more conventional source for the particles, such as a pulsar (a type of neutron star).

AMS was placed on the ISS in 2011. The longer it operates, the better its statistics will be and the more definitive scientists can be in their statements.

Lead spokesman, Prof. Sam Ting, said the AMS Collaboration would proceed slowly and cautiously.

“It took us 18 years to do this experiment and we want to do it very carefully,” he told a seminar at the European Laboratory for Particle Physics (CERN) in Geneva.

“We will publish things when we are absolutely sure.”

The Physical Review Letters paper reports the positron-electron count in the energy range of 0.5 to 350 gigaelectronvolts (GeV).

The behavior of the positron excess across this energy spectrum fits with the researchers’ expectations. However, the “smoking gun” signature would be to see a rise in this ratio and then a dramatic fall. This has yet to be observed. Only more data from above 350 GeV will resolve this issue.

“With time, we should be able to tell you whether it drops off very quickly, in which case it will be the result of dark matter collisions – which means we’ve found dark matter; or that it drops off very slowly which means the positrons come from pulsars,” Prof. Sam Ting explained.

“At the moment we do not have enough particle events.”

Getting a definitive detection and nailing some of its properties would open up dark matter to further study.

AMS is just one of several techniques being used by researchers to try to uncover the nature of dark matter.

There are laboratories on Earth that are attempting to make more direct detections as the elusive particles pass though containers of the elements xenon or argon, held deep underground.

The Large Hadron Collider (LHC), too, is involved in the hunt. It hopes to produce dark matter particles in its accelerator.

A precise description of this mysterious component is now an urgent objective for modern physics.

Normal matter, the material we can see with telescopes (all the stars and galaxies), contributes just 4.9% of the mass/energy density of the Universe.

Dark matter is a far bigger constituent, making up 26.8%. This figure was recently raised following studies of the cosmos by the European Space Agency’s Planck telescope.

The value is now nearly a fifth up on previous estimates.

Dark energy is the component that contributes most to the mass/energy density of the Universe at 68.3%. Dark energy is the name given to the force thought to be accelerating the expansion of the Universe. Its character is even more obscure to science than dark matter.

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Columbia crew were not told that the shuttle had been damaged and they might not survive re-entry, NASA has revealed.

The seven astronauts who died will be remembered at a public memorial service on the 10th anniversary of the disaster this Friday at Florida’s Kennedy Space Center.

The shuttle was headed home from a 16-day science mission when it broke apart over Texas on February 1, 2003, because of damage to its left wing.

Ten years ago, experts at NASA’s mission control faced the terrible decision over whether to let the astronauts know that they may die on re-entry or face orbiting in space until the oxygen ran out.

Those on the ground decided that it would be better if the crew were spared knowledge of the risks.

There was no way to repair any suspected damage – the crew were far from the International Space Station and had no robotic arm for repairs. It would have taken too long to send up another shuttle to rescue them.

Wayne Hale, who went on to become space shuttle program manager, has written on his blog about the fateful day.

Wayne Hale writes: “After one of the MMTs (Mission Management Team) when possible damage to the orbiter was discussed, he (Flight Director Jon Harpold) gave me his opinion: <<You know, there is nothing we can do about damage to the TPS (Thermal Protection System). If it has been damaged it’s probably better not to know. I think the crew would rather not know. Don’t you think it would be better for them to have a happy successful flight and die unexpectedly during entry than to stay on orbit, knowing that there was nothing to be done, until the air ran out?>>.”

Columbia crew were not told that the shuttle had been damaged and they might not survive re-entry

Columbia crew were not told that the shuttle had been damaged and they might not survive re-entry

When Mission Control had it confirmed that the shuttle had broken up over Texas, Flight Director Leroy Cain ordered the room on lock-down and all computer data saved for later investigation.

All seven on board – David Brown, Rick Husband, Laurel Clark, Kalpana Chawla, Michael Anderson, William McCool and Ilan Ramon – were known to be dead within minutes.

Following the crash, low-level engineers at Johnson Space Center revealed that they had tried to alert NASA senior staff about problems with the shuttle.

The investigation into the Columbia disaster revealed that a piece of foam the size of a briefcase was the physical cause of the accident. It had smashed into the shuttle’s wing during take-off and left a hole in the protective tiles, leaving the shuttle vulnerable on re-entry.

Wayne Hale is the only person at NASA who publicly accepted blame, according to ABC.

NASA flights resumed two years later and the shuttles were retired in 2011.

As the memorial takes place on Friday, 12 children will remember the parents they lost. A decade later, the youngest is now 15 and the oldest is 32.

The oldest son of Columbia’s pilot is now a Marine captain with three young children of his own.

The son of astronaut Dr. Laurel Clark, Iain Clark is a young man on the cusp of college with a master’s rating in scuba diving and three parachute jumps in his new log book.

His mother loved scuba and skydiving. So did her flight surgeon husband and Iain’s dad, Dr. Jonathan Clark, who since the accident, has been a crusader for keeping space crews safe.

Neurologist Dr. Jonathan Clark told the Associated Press: “It’s tough losing a mom, that’s for sure. I think Iain was the most affected.

“My goal was to keep him alive. That was the plan. It was kind of dicey for a while. There was a lot of darkness – for him and me.”

Jonathan Clark’s wife and the six other astronauts were killed in the final minutes of their 16-day scientific research mission aboard Columbia.

Jonathan Clark, now 59, said he turned to alcohol in the aftermath of Columbia. If it wasn’t for his son, he doubts he would have gotten through it.

“He’s the greatest kid ever,” Jonathan Clark said in a phone interview from Houston.

“He cares about people. He’s kind of starting to get his confidence, but he’s not at all cocky.”

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Sarah Brightman is to travel as a space tourist to the International Space Station.

The classical recording artist, once married to Lord Andrew Lloyd Webber, will be part of a three-person crew flying to the ISS.

After completing a tour in 2013, Sarah Brightman will embark on six months of preparation at the Star City cosmonaut training centre in Moscow.

She will be the eighth space tourist to visit the ISS.

Once there, she says she intends to become the first professional musician to sing from space.

“This voyage is a product of a dream, my dream. Finally it can be a reality. I am more excited about this than anything I have done in my life to date,” she told a news conference in Moscow.

She added that the schedule for her flight would “be determined very shortly by (Russian space agency) Roscosmos and the ISS partners.”

Space Adventures, the Vienna-based company that organizes flights for private spacefarers, did not disclose how much Sarah Brightman had paid for her seat on the Soyuz.

But the last space tourist, Cirque du Soleil chief executive Guy Laliberte, paid $35 million for the privilege.

Sarah Brightman began her career with the dance troupe Hot Gossip, which had a chart hit in 1978 with I Lost My Heart to a Starship Trooper.

She subsequently starred on the West End stage in Cats and Phantom of the Opera, both penned by Andrew Lloyd Webber, whom she married in 1984.

The pair divorced in 1990 and Sarah Brightman embarked on a solo singing career. She helped popularize the classical crossover genre, scoring a worldwide hit with her duet with Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli, Time To Say Goodbye.


The first commercially contracted re-supply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) has begun.

A Falcon rocket carrying a Dragon cargo capsule lifted clear of Cape Canaveral in Florida at 20:35 (00:35 GMT).

The robotic Dragon ship will deliver 400 kg of food, clothing, experiments and spares to the orbiting platform’s six astronauts.

It is the maiden flight in a sequence of 12 missions that California’s SpaceX company is performing for NASA.

NASA is looking to the private sector to assume routine transport duties to and from low-Earth orbit.

It has given SpaceX a $1.6 billion contract to keep the ISS stocked up with essentials, restoring a re-supply capability that the US lost when it retired the shuttles last year.

The terms of the contract kicked in following a successful test of Dragon’s systems in May.

That demonstration saw the capsule berth with the ISS – the first commercially designed and built vehicle to do so – and then return safely to Earth.

NASA has a second company it hopes also can soon begin operational cargo deliveries to the station.

The Orbital Sciences Corporation (OSC) will shortly test its new Antares rocket before undertaking its own ISS demonstration with a robotic vessel called Cygnus.

If that mission – tipped to take place next year – goes well then it will trigger a $1.9 billion contract for Orbital.

NASA wants eventually to put astronaut transport in the hands of the private sector, too.

SpaceX is eyeing this business as well, and is developing the critical life-support and safety systems that would turn Dragon into a human-rated vehicle. The company says it is just a few years away from being able to provide an astronaut “taxi” service.

NASA’s policy of outsourcing its cargo and crew transport needs is intended to find savings that can be ploughed back into building a rocket and capsule system capable of taking humans beyond low-Earth to more challenging destinations.

“We’re handing off to the private sector our transportation to the International Space Station so that NASA can focus on what we do best – exploring even deeper into our Solar System, with missions to an asteroid and Mars on the horizon,” explained agency administrator Charles Bolden.

Sunday’s nine-minute, 14-second ascent to orbit appeared flawless.

The Falcon dropped the Dragon off in an elliptical path running from 197 km above the Earth out to 328 km.

“Dragon was inserted into a picture-perfect orbit,” said SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell.

“Its solar arrays deployed and it’s driving its way to station. So, that’s just awesome.”

Dragon must raise itself to the ISS’s altitude, which is presently at more than 400 km.

It is scheduled to arrive at the station on Wednesday. It will follow the routine established in May of parking itself just below the platform so that it can be grabbed by a robotic arm and pulled into a berthing port.

The attachment should take place at about 05:40 GMT.

Dragon is expected to return to Earth at the end of the month.

Its cargo then will include broken machinery and science materials that need to be handed back to researchers.


Russian Soyuz capsule has returned to Earth with its three-man crew after they spent 123 days at the International Space Station.

Two Russians, Gennady Padalka and Sergei Revin, and their American colleague Joe Acaba made the safe return in Kazakhstan on Monday morning.

Another crew of three who took off in May remain on the International Space Station.

Russian Soyuz capsule has returned to Earth with its three-man crew after they spent 123 days at the International Space Station

Russian Soyuz capsule has returned to Earth with its three-man crew after they spent 123 days at the International Space Station

Next month, another three are due to take off from Kazakhstan to join them.

The capsule landed at 08:53 local time and all three crew members “are safe and adjusting to gravity,” according to the Twitter feed of the US space programme NASA.

“I feel great,” Gennady Padalka told attending recovery staff, Reuters news agency reports.

The Soyuz craft is the only means for astronauts to reach the International Space Station since the US shuttle fleet was retired last year.

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Russian spacecraft Soyuz TMA-05M carrying a three-man crew has blasted off for the International Space Station (ISS).

The Soyuz rocket set off from Kazakhstan at 02:40 GMT on Sunday with Russian, Japanese and American astronauts on board.

They are set to dock with the ISS, a $100 billion research complex orbiting around 385 km (240 miles) above Earth, early on Tuesday.

NASA said the Soyuz TMA-05M rocket had a “smooth ride into space”.

Russian spacecraft Soyuz TMA-05M carrying a three-man crew has blasted off for the International Space Station

Russian spacecraft Soyuz TMA-05M carrying a three-man crew has blasted off for the International Space Station

The astronauts on board, veteran Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko, NASA’s Sunitia Williams and Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide will join three others on board the ISS.

NASA flight engineer Joseph Acaba and Russian cosmonauts Gennady Padalka and Sergei Revin are already living aboard the space station, which is set to receive an unprecedented level of traffic over the next few weeks.

According to the Associated Press news agency, a Japanese cargo ship will dock with the station next week, followed by a further eight craft making contact with the orbiting satellite.

NASA ended its space shuttle programme in July 2011, and since then US astronauts have depended on Russian Soyuz flights for transport to reach the International Space Station.

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The launch of the American SpaceX’s Dragon re-supply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) has been delayed by at least three days.

The company was forced to abort the flight just as its Falcon rocket was about to leave the pad at Florida’s Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Early data indicated unusual pressure readings in one of the nine engine combustion chambers under the vehicle.

The company says it hopes to try again on Tuesday or Wednesday.

“We had a nominal countdown, right until about T-minus point-five-seconds,” explained SpaceX president Gwynne Shotwell.

“The engine controller noted high chamber pressure in engine five; software did what it was supposed to do – aborted engine five, and then we went through the remaining engine shut-down,” she told reporters.

“We need to lift off with all nine [engines], which is why we aborted. You can lose up to two engines and still make your mission, just not at lift-off.”

The launch of the American SpaceX's Dragon re-supply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) has been delayed by at least three days

The launch of the American SpaceX's Dragon re-supply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) has been delayed by at least three days

The next earliest launch opportunity is 03:44 EDT on Tuesday.

SpaceX is attempting to become the first private company to send a cargo craft to the ISS; and its Dragon ship, which sits atop the Falcon rocket, has been loaded with half a ton of food and spares for the purpose.

Such unmanned freighter missions have traditionally been performed by government-owned vehicles. But by buying in this service, NASA aims to save money that can then be spent on exploration missions far beyond Earth, to asteroids and Mars.

Both SpaceX and another private firm, Orbital Sciences Corp, have been given billion-dollar contracts by NASA to keep the space station stocked with supplies. Orbital expects to make its first visit to the international outpost with its Antares rocket and Cygnus capsule system later this year.

SpaceX’s mission – when it does eventually get under way – will be the final demonstration of its freight service. If all the mission goals are met to NASA’s satisfaction, the company’s $1.6 billion re-supply contract with the agency will kick in.

SpaceX wants eventually also to ferry astronauts to and from the ISS.

To that end, Dragon has been designed from the outset to carry people; and under another NASA programme, the company is working to develop the onboard life-support and safety systems that would make manned flights feasible.

Following the retirement of the shuttles last year, America has had no means of launching its own astronauts into space – rides must be bought for them on Russian Soyuz rockets at more than $60 million per seat. SpaceX says Dragon could be ready to carry people in 2015 at a seat price of $20 million.

“In order for NASA to be able to afford any programme of exploration in the future given the fiscal realities of the government, it has to transition away from high-cost services that are procured by and for the government into shared-use services that are competitively sourced,” observed Jeff Greason, the president of XCOR Aerospace and a leading proponent of commercial space activity.