Sunday, November 13, 2011

Station-Bound Crew Gets Snowy Send-Off

A new crew launched toward the International Space Station late Sunday, setting sail on an expedition delayed three months by a fleet-grounding Russian rocket failure.

The 11:14 p.m. EST launch from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan propelled U.S. astronaut Dan Burbank and Russian cosmonauts Anatoly Ivinishin and Anton Shkaplerov toward an arrival Wednesday at the outpost. The launch pad was obscured by snow flurries. A half-foot of snow fell in the hours leading up to liftoff.

"It is quite heavy; almost a whiteout at times," NASA spokesman Rob Navias said.

Burbank is the first American to launch since July’s shuttle fleet retirement left the U.S. totally reliant on Russia for station flights.

U.S. commercial companies are developing spaceships to taxi American astronauts. But they won’t be ready before 2016. Until then, the U.S. will pay Russia $1.5 billion to fly NASA astronauts.

An Aug. 24 Soyuz U rocket failure delayed Sunday’s launch. The Soyuz FG that launched the crew is equipped with the same engine that failed and caused the accident.

Fleetwide engine inspections and a successful Oct. 30 Soyuz U launch preceded Sunday’s flight.

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