Ex-spy watches as Soyuz blasts off for ISS

Posted by Emma Woollacott

The Soyuz TMA-01M spacecraft blasted off successfully from Kazakhstan last night, taking three astronauts to the International Space Station.

Less than 10 minutes after launch, the spacecraft reached orbit and its antennas and solar arrays were deployed.

The journey will take two days, with the ship scheduled to dock to the Poisk module on Saturday. It's carrying veteran shuttle astronaut Scott Kelly, Soyuz commander Alexander Kaleri and Russian flight engineer Oleg Skripochka.

Welcoming them aboard will be current station residents Expedition 25 commander Doug Wheelock and flight engineers Fyodor Yurchikhin and Shannon Walker, who arrived on the ISS in June and are scheduled to leave at the end of November.

Watching the takeoff was Mark Kelly, Scott Kelly's twin brother, who is set to follow him up to the ISS on the Endeavour shuttle in February. If all goes to plan, it will be the first time two relatives have ever been in space together.

And another member of the audience, according to AFP, was the high-profile Russian spy Anna Chapman. She's apparently now an advisor - on what, we don't know - to the president of FondServisBank, which works with the space industry and was handing out awards at the launch.

The Soyuz spacecraft has recently been upgraded to include a new flight control computer, as well as improving the pilots' displays. The improvements are intended to allow the ship to launch twice as often once NASA's shuttle fleet is retired next year.