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Crew confident ahead of first flight since failed Soyuz launch

AFP  |  Baikonur (Kazakhstan) 

Russian, American and Canadian astronauts will blast off Monday for the first manned mission since a frightening failed launch in October, with the three feeling confident despite the risks.

Russian Oleg Kononenko, of NASA and of the Canadian Space Agency will launch at 1131 GMT aboard a from Baikonur in for a six-and-a-half month mission on the

It will be the first manned launch for the Soviet-era since October 11, when a rocket carrying Russia's and US failed just minutes after blast-off, forcing the pair to make an emergency landing.

They escaped unharmed but the failed launch -- the first such incident in Russia's post-Soviet history -- raised concerns about the state of the Soyuz programme.

The Soyuz is the only means of reaching the ISS since the retired the space shuttle in 2011.

Kononenko, McClain and Saint-Jacques showed no signs of worry as they boarded a bus on Monday to take them to the launch. They smiled and waved, with Saint-Jacques blowing kisses and giving the thumbs-up to a crowd of well-wishers.

At a press conference on the eve of the launch, Kononenko said the astronauts "absolutely" trusted teams preparing for the flight.

"Risk is part of our profession," the 54-year-old said.

"We are psychologically and technically prepared for blast-off and any situation which, God forbid, may occur on board."

McClain, a 39-year-old former military pilot, said the crew looked forward to going up.

"We feel very ready for it," she said.

Saint-Jacques, 48, described the Soyuz as "incredibly safe".

The accident highlighted the "smart design of the Soyuz and the incredible work that the search and rescue people here on the ground are ready to do every launch," he said.

In a successful rehearsal for Monday's flight, a Soyuz cargo vessel took off on November 16 from Baikonur and delivered several tons of food, fuel and supplies to the ISS.

said last month the October launch had failed because of a sensor that was damaged during assembly at the Baikonur cosmodrome but insisted the remained reliable.

Ahead of Monday's launch a Russian Orthodox blessed the spaceship on its launchpad, in accordance with tradition.

Of the trio set to reach the ISS six hours after blast-off, both Saint-Jacques and McClain will by flying for the first time.

Kononenko is beginning his fourth mission to add to an impressive 533 days in space.

The veteran noted that the crew would conduct a spacewalk on December 11 as part of an investigation into a mysterious hole that has caused an air leak on the ISS.

Saint-Jacques will be the first Canadian to visit the space station since Chris Hadfield, who recorded a version of David Bowie's "Space Oddity" on board in 2013.

Canada's and former will be among the dignitaries watching the launch.

Saint-Jacques joked that he had received so much training ahead of the flight "that I felt at the end that I could build a Soyuz in my backyard."

McClain served in and has represented the in women's rugby.

She has said that training to spacewalk resembled the sport since it demands "grit, toughness, mental focus, and more".

Russia-US cooperation in space has remained one of the few areas not affected by a crisis in ties between the former Cold War enemies.

But comments by the of the Russian space agency, Dmitry Rogozin, have increasingly raised eyebrows.

He recently joked would send a mission to the Moon to "verify" whether or not NASA lunar landings ever took place.

In recent years Russia's debt-laden space industry has suffered a number of mishaps including the loss of cargo and satellites.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Mon, December 03 2018. 15:25 IST