Image: Soyuz launch
NASA TV
A Russian Soyuz rocket rises from its launch pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Monday, carrying three spacefliers into space. The view is partially obscured by heavy snow and moisture on the video camera's lens.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 11/14/2011 12:04:02 AM ET 2011-11-14T05:04:02

Three astronauts were lofted into orbit amid heavy snowfall on Monday, on a mission to bring the crew of the International Space Station back to full strength.

The liftoff at 10:14 a.m. local time (11:14 p.m. ET) from Russia's Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan came after a weeks-long delay, due to the crash of a Russian rocket that was carrying an unmanned cargo spaceship. That incident in August forced the Russians to review the safety of the similar Soyuz rocket model that is used for manned launches.

The U.S.-Russian crew is the first to enter orbit since NASA ended its 30-year shuttle program in July, heralding a period of several years when the space station's partners will have to rely solely on Russia to ferry crews.

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Any problem with the launch could have left the space station empty for the first time in more than a decade when the current three-man crew returns to Earth later this month.

The launch came amid what NASA spokesman Rob Navias said was about half a foot (15 centimeters) of snow and "almost whiteout" conditions. Russian controllers said the launch could proceed despite the snow because winds at the launch site were within limits.

This marks the first voyage on board a Soyuz spacecraft for veteran NASA astronaut Daniel Burbank, while cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Anton Shkaplerov are making their maiden spaceflights.

Russia's space agency decided Monday's launch could go ahead after determining that the Aug. 24 Soyuz rocket failure was an "isolated" glitch caused by a fuel pipe blockage. The launch of an unmanned Progress craft in October added to Russia's confidence that the problem was limited to one bad rocket.

The spacefliers shrugged off safety concerns before liftoff.

"We don't have any black thoughts. We have faith in our equipment," Russian news agencies quoted Shkaplerov as saying.

Once the Soyuz spacecraft was safely in orbit, the crew flashed a thumbs-up signal to onboard cameras, and applause broke out at Russia's Mission Control center.

After a cramped two-day journey aboard the Soyuz TMA-22 capsule, the trio will dock with the space station on Nov. 16, overlapping briefly with station commander Mike Fossum of NASA, Japan's Satoshi Furukawa and Russia's Sergei Volkov. Those three are due to return to Earth aboard a different Soyuz craft on Nov. 22, with their replacements launching from Baikonur on Dec. 21.

Image: Soyuz ascent
Mikhail Metzel  /  AP
The Soyuz rocket booster looks like a bright beacon shining through snowfall in this view of Monday's launch from Russia's Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Moscow hopes a smooth crew transition will help restore its reputation after last week's apparent failure of what was once touted as post-Soviet Russia's interplanetary debut. The $165 million Phobos-Grunt probe was launched from Baikonur, with the objective of journeying to the Martian moon Phobos, but it became stuck in Earth orbit and may plunge back through the atmosphere within weeks.

Botched launches have also lost Russia a high-tech military orbiter, a costly telecommunication satellite and set back plans for a global navigation system to rival the U.S. Global Positioning System.

This year the United States turned over all crewed flight responsibilities to Russia, at a cost of about $350 million a year, until commercial firms can offer space-taxi rides.

NASA is seeking $850 million to help U.S.-based private companies develop human orbital transport capabilities with the goal of breaking Russia's monopoly on ferrying astronauts to the space station before the end of 2016.

This report includes information from Reuters and msnbc.com.

© 2013 msnbc.com

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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