BAIKONUR, Kazakhstan (AP) — A Russian spacecraft carrying a three-man crew blasted off Friday from a launch pad in the steppes of Kazakhstan, for the first time taking a shorter path to the International Space Station.
Instead of the two-day approach maneuver used by Soyuz spacecraft in the past, this journey to the station would take NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and Russians Pavel Vinogradov and Alexander Misurkin just under six hours.
The Soyuz TMA-08M lifted off on time from the Russian-leased Baikonur cosmodrome at 2:43 a.m. Friday (2043 GMT; 4:43 p.m. EDT Thursday). It's set to dock at the space outpost at 10:32 p.m. EDT Thursday (0232 GMT Friday).
The trio are "on a fast track to the International Space Station," NASA spokesman Josh Byerly said, adding minutes after the launch that all was going well and the spacecraft went into orbit without any problems.
The new maneuver has been tested successfully by three Russian Progress cargo ships, an unmanned version of the Soyuz used to ferry supplies to the space station.
Vinogradov joked at a pre-launch news conference at Baikonur that the journey to the station would be so quick that it could allow the crew to even carry ice cream as a present to the three men currently manning the orbiting outpost.
"It wouldn't melt in such a short time," he said.
On a more serious note, Vinogradov added that the shorter flight path would reduce the crew's fatigue and allow astronauts to be in top shape for the docking. He said that it takes about five hours for the human body to start feeling the impact of zero gravity, so the quicker flight would allow the crew to more easily adapt to weightlessness in much roomier space station interiors.