The liftoff marked the first launch by a space crew since Russia launched an invasion of Ukraine on Feb. 24.
Three Russian cosmonauts have arrived safely at the International Space Station (ISS), docking their Soyuz capsule at the outpost for a mission that continues a 20-year shared Russian-American presence in orbit despite tensions over the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
The rendezvous took place about three hours and 10 minutes after the Soyuz spacecraft carrying the new team of cosmonauts lifted off Friday from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
The docking, confirmed at 19:13 GMT, took place as Soyuz and the space station flew about 420 km (250 miles) above eastern Kazakhstan, according to NASA.
Soyuz commander Oleg Artemyev led the team, joined by two spaceflight rookies, Denis Matveev and Sergey Korsakov, on a science mission expected to last 6.5 months.
The launch was broadcast live by NASA TV and on the US space agency’s website.
About 2.5 hours into the flight, the Soyuz became visible from the space station as a small black dot that got bigger and bigger as it got closer, the NASA webcast showed. .
The three cosmonauts will join the station’s current seven-member crew to replace three who are due to return to Earth on March 30 – cosmonauts Pyotr Dubrov and Anton Shkaplerov and American NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei.
Remaining on board the ISS with the new arrivals until the next rotation two months later are three NASA astronauts – Tom Marshburn, Raja Chari and Kayla Barron – and his German teammate Matthias Maurer from the European Space Agency.
These four crew members arrived together in November aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon ship launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to begin a six-month stay in orbit.
Launched in 1998, the research platform orbiting some 400 km (250 miles) above Earth has been permanently manned since November 2000 while being operated by a partnership led by the United States and Russia , including Canada, Japan and 11 European countries.
However, the war in Ukraine has led to canceled spacecraft launches and broken contracts, and Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin has warned that the United States should use “broomsticks” to fly in the space after Russia announced it would stop supplying rocket engines to American companies.
Many fear that Rogozin could jeopardize decades of peaceful off-planet partnership, including on the International Space Station.
NASA Administrator Bill Nelson played down Rogozin’s comments, telling the Associated Press news agency, “It’s just Dmitry Rogozin. It springs from time to time. But in the end, he worked with us.
“The other people who work in the Russian civilian space program are professionals. They don’t miss a beat with us American astronauts and American Mission Control.