Russian Rocket Blasts Off for Space Station; Aggie on Board

Aggie Astronaut Steve Swanson
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BAIKONUR, Kazakhstan (AP) A rocket carrying a Russian-American crew to the International Space Station has blasted off successfully from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The Soyuz booster rocket lifted off as scheduled at 3:17 a.m local time Wednesday (2117 GMT Tuesday), lighting up the night skies over the steppe with a giant fiery tail. It entered a designated orbit in about 10 minutes after the launch. All onboard systems were working flawlessly, and the crew was feeling fine.

So far, there have been no signs that the tensions between the U.S. and Russia over Ukraine could affect the space program.

The crew - NASA astronaut Steve Swanson and Russians Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev - are set to dock the Soyuz TMA-12M spacecraft at the station less than six hours after the launch and are scheduled to stay in orbit for six months.

Swanson is a veteran of two U.S. space shuttle missions, and Skvortsov spent six months on the space outpost in 2010. Artemyev is on his first flight to space.

The trio will be greeted by Japan's Koichi Wakata, NASA's Rick Mastracchio and Russia's Mikhail Tyurin, who have been at the station since November. Wakata is the first Japanese astronaut to lead the station.

NASA has relied on Russian Soyuz spacecraft to ferry crew to the orbiting outpost and back to Earth following the retirement of the U.S. shuttle fleet in 2011.