Soyuz takes off on fastest flight to space station

NASA astronaut says, 'We feel great,' as rocket blasts off for 6-hour trip

An American astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts blasted off on what is expected to be the fastest trip to the International Space Station in the history of space flight.

A Soyuz spacecraft lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 4:43 p.m. EDT Thursday. With 102 tons of thrust upon blast off, the rocket hit 1,200 mph just one minute into its flight.

The Soyuz spacecraft takes off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, on a mission to the International Space Station in this Twitpic from NASA. (Image: NASA)

"Spacecraft is nominal and we feel great," said NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy, who, along with cosmonauts Pavel Vinogradov and Alexander Misurkin, are travelinhg aboard the Soyuz spacecraft.

"This chase into space is about to begin," said an announcer on NASA TV, which aired the launch. NASA TV also will cover the docking of the spacecraft with the space station, which is expected at 10:32 p.m.

Just 10 minutes into the Soyuz's flight, NASA reported that the spacecraft's boosters had dropped away, and it had reached a speed of 1,500 mph. Its antennas and solar arrays had deployed.

Today's launch could be historic because it will be the first time that any spacecraft had launched and made a rendezvous with the space station in less than two days.

Today's journey is expected to take just six hours.

The fast trip is using new rendezvous techniques that were tested in three recent unpiloted Russian cargo spacecrafts, according to NASA.

Hatches on both the Soyuz and the space station are set to open at 12:10 a.m. EDT Friday.

The three men onboard the Soyuz will be joining Cmdr. Chris Hadfield and flight engineers Tom Marshburn and Roman Romanenko, who already are living on the station.

Shortly after the Soyuz liftoff, Hadfield tweeted, "Just watched the Soyuz launch! The rocket's red glare, powering up away from the Earth, turning towards us in hot pursuit. Incredible to see."

NASA announced just prior to the blastoff that the astronauts onboard the space station had moved to the seven-window cupola to get a good view of the launch.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed. Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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