Russian, U.S. crew blast off for space station

Three astronauts blasted off on Monday to restore a full crew to the International Space Station (ISS) after the crash of a Russian cargo spaceship disrupted operations and undermined faith in the Russian space programme the launch at 0414 GMT was the first since NASA ended its 30-year shuttle programme in July, heralding a gap of several years when the 16 nations investing in the $100(One Hundred)-billion space station will rely solely on Russia to ferry crews.

Once safely in orbit, the astronaut trio flashed a thumbs-up signal to onboard cameras and applause broke out at the cavernous Mission Control centre in a northern Moscow suburb monday's mission was delayed from September over safety fears after an unmanned Russian Progress craft taking supplies to astronauts broke up in the atmosphere in one of the worst Russian space mishaps in decades.

Any problem in reaching the ISS could leave the space station empty for the first time in more than a decade when the current three-man crew returns to Earth later this monthfor veteran NASA astronaut Daniel Burbank, it is the first voyage on board a Soyuz spacecraft from Russia's Baikonur launchpad in Kazakhstan, while cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Anton Shkaplerov are making their maiden space voyage.

But the crew shrugged off safety concerns before lift off from a snowbound Baikonur "We don't have any black thoughts. We have faith in our equipment," Shkaplerov said, quoted by Russian news agencies after a cramped two-day journey aboard the Soyuz TMA-22 capsule, the crew 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.