Video: Soyuz launches into orbit

updated 6/7/2011 5:15:55 PM ET 2011-06-07T21:15:55

A Russian spacecraft blasted off from southern Kazakhstan in the early darkness of Wednesday morning to take a three-man crew to the International Space Station.

Russian cosmonaut Sergei Volkov, NASA's Michael Fossum, and Satoshi Furukawa of Japan roared into the night sky from the desolate but balmy Kazakh Steppe early Wednesday.

Furukawa held a thumbs-up as the rocket charged into low orbit at speeds approaching 14,000 miles per hour (23,000 kilometers per hour), and a soft toy began to float, indicating zero gravity.

"We feel just great," Volkov said in answer to a question from Mission Control outside Moscow.

The trio will spend almost two days in the cramped Soyuz capsule before docking with the space station, where they will remain until mid-November.

Family, friends and colleagues of the astronauts watched the powerful rocket cast a phosphorous glow over the Russian-leased Baikonur space launch site, deep inside the territory of the former Soviet nation, at 2:15 a.m. local time (1:15 p.m. ET Tuesday).

This is the second run for the revamped version of the Soyuz, which has served as the workhorse of the Russian space program for decades.

Volkov, Fossum and Furukawa will join three other spacefliers already aboard the space station: NASA astronaut Ron Garan and Russian cosmonauts Alexander Samokutyaev and Andrey Borisenko. Those three are due to return to Earth in September.

The team will witness the final mission of the U.S. shuttle, with NASA retiring the 30-year program after Atlantis flies on July 8.

South Dakota native Fossum, 53, is the oldest member of the outbound crew and has been closely involved with the design and assembly of the International Space Station.

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"(I) helped design the space station, I helped build it on two assembly flights, and now to have the opportunity to live there is just amazing," he said before liftoff.

Astronaut farmers
Furukawa told reporters that he would be growing cucumbers as part of a continuing study investigating how future space explorers might produce their own food. "We wish we were able to eat the cucumbers, but we have not been allowed," Furukawa, a doctor, said at a prelaunch news conference.

Japan has led the way in trying to raise culinary standards in space. Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi, who is in Baikonur escorting Furukawa's family, even made his own sushi while on the space station last year.

Volkov said that tomatoes will be planted in the station's Russian segment, and he joked that he hoped astronauts might be granted permission to prepare a salad. "To be honest, what I would really like is fried potatoes," he added.

After the shuttles
Wednesday's launch came just a week after the shuttle Endeavour touched down at the end of its last mission. After Atlantis' flight, the Russian Soyuz craft will provide the only means to transport humans to and from the space station — at least until U.S. commercial spacecraft are available for NASA's use around the middle of the decade.

Patrick Buzzard, NASA's representative to Russia, said the two countries have relied and one another over the recent history of space exploration and that nothing was set to change.

"It is such a strong partnership and we have these capabilities that everyone brings to the table. That makes it a more robust program," Buzzard told The Associated Press at the Baikonur launch pad viewing platform.

This report was supplemented by msnbc.com.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Photos: Month in Space: January 2014

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  1. Southern stargazing

    Stars, galaxies and nebulas dot the skies over the European Southern Observatory's La Silla Paranal Observatory in Chile, in a picture released on Jan. 7. This image also shows three of the four movable units that feed light into the Very Large Telescope Interferometer, the world's most advanced optical instrument. Combining to form one larger telescope, they are greater than the sum of their parts: They reveal details that would otherwise be visible only through a telescope as large as the distance between them. (Y. Beletsky / ESO) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. A balloon's view

    Cameras captured the Grandville High School RoboDawgs' balloon floating through Earth's upper atmosphere during its ascent on Dec. 28, 2013. The Grandville RoboDawgs’ first winter balloon launch reached an estimated altitude of 130,000 feet, or about 25 miles, according to coaches Mike Evele and Doug Hepfer. It skyrocketed past the team’s previous 100,000-feet record set in June. The RoboDawgs started with just one robotics team in 1998, but they've grown to support more than 30 teams at public schools in Grandville, Mich. (Kyle Moroney / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Spacemen at work

    Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kotov, right, and Sergey Ryazanskiy perform maintenance on the International Space Station on Jan. 27. During the six-hour, eight-minute spacewalk, Kotov and Ryazanskiy completed the installation of a pair of high-fidelity cameras that experienced connectivity issues during a Dec. 27 spacewalk. The cosmonauts also retrieved scientific gear outside the station's Russian segment. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Special delivery

    The International Space Station's Canadian-built robotic arm moves toward Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Cygnus autonomous cargo craft as it approaches the station for a Jan. 12 delivery. The mountains below are the southwestern Alps. (NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Accidental art

    A piece of art? A time-lapse photo? A flickering light show? At first glance, this image looks nothing like the images we're used to seeing from the Hubble Space Telescope. But it's a genuine Hubble frame that was released on Jan. 27. Hubble's team suspects that the telescope's Fine Guidance System locked onto a bad guide star, potentially a double star or binary. This caused an error in the tracking system, resulting in a remarkable picture of brightly colored stellar streaks. The prominent red streaks are from stars in the globular cluster NGC 288. (NASA / ESA) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Supersonic test flight

    A camera looking back over Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo's fuselage shows the rocket burn with a Mojave Desert vista in the background during a test flight of the rocket plane on Jan. 10. Cameras were mounted on the exterior of SpaceShipTwo as well as its carrier airplane, WhiteKnightTwo, to monitor the rocket engine's performance. The test was aimed at setting the stage for honest-to-goodness flights into outer space later this year, and eventual commercial space tours.

    More about SpaceShipTwo on PhotoBlog (Virgin Galactic) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Red lagoon

    The VLT Survey Telescope at the European Southern Observatory's Paranal Observatory in Chile captured this richly detailed new image of the Lagoon Nebula, released on Jan. 22. This giant cloud of gas and dust is creating intensely bright young stars, and is home to young stellar clusters. This image is a tiny part of just one of 11 public surveys of the sky now in progress using ESO telescopes. (ESO/VPHAS team) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Fire on the mountain

    This image provided by NASA shows a satellite view of smoke from the Colby Fire, taken by the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer aboard NASA's Terra spacecraft as it passed over Southern California on Jan. 16. The fire burned more than 1,863 acres and forced the evacuation of 3,700 people. (NASA via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Where stars are born

    An image captured by NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope shows the Orion Nebula, an immense stellar nursery some 1,500 light-years away. This false-color infrared view, released on Jan. 15, spans about 40 light-years across the region. The brightest portion of the nebula is centered on Orion's young, massive, hot stars, known as the Trapezium Cluster. But Spitzer also can detect stars still in the process of formation, seen here in red hues. (NASA / JPL-Caltech) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Cygnus takes flight

    Orbital Sciences Corp.'s Antares rocket rises from NASA's Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va, on Jan. 9. The rocket sent Orbital's Cygnus cargo capsule on its first official resupply mission to the International Space Station. (Chris Perry / NASA) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A long, long time ago...

    This long-exposure picture from the Hubble Space Telescope, released Jan. 8, is the deepest image ever made of any cluster of galaxies. The cluster known as Abell 2744 appears in the foreground. It contains several hundred galaxies as they looked 3.5 billion years ago. Abell 2744 acts as a gravitational lens to warp space, brightening and magnifying images of nearly 3,000 distant background galaxies. The more distant galaxies appear as they did more than 12 billion years ago, not long after the Big Bang. (NASA / NASA via AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Frosty halo

    Sun dogs are bright spots that appear in the sky around the sun when light is refracted through ice crystals in the atmosphere. These sun dogs appeared on Jan. 5 amid brutally cold temperatures along Highway 83, north of Bismarck, N.D. The temperature was about 22 degrees below zero Fahrenheit, with a 50-below-zero wind chill.

    Slideshow: The Year in Space (Brian Peterson / The Bismarck Tribune via AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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