Blastoff From Baikonur

A Soyuz TMA-8 booster rocket blasts off from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan,Thursday, March 30, 2006. The rocket carry Brazil's first astronaut, Marcos Pontes, U.S. astronaut Geoffrey Williams, and Russian cosmonaut Pavel Vinogradov to the international space station on a mission that will include experiments designed to see how humans react to prolonged space travel. (AP Photo/Misha Japaridze) AP

A Russian Soyuz rocket streaked into the skies over the Central Asian steppe on Thursday, launching a U.S.-Russian-Brazilian crew on a mission to the International Space Station.

Officials monitoring the launch at Russian Mission Control outside Moscow held their applause until the spacecraft reached near-Earth orbit, about 10 minutes after its 6:30 a.m. launch.

Russian Pavel Vinogradov and American Jeffrey Williams are to stay aboard the space station for about six months. Brazil's first man in space, Marcos Pontes, will stay at the station for nine days before returning to Earth on April 9 with the station's current crew of Russian Valery Tokarev and American Bill McArthur.

Vinogradov and Williams will later be joined by European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Reiter, of Germany, when the space shuttle Discovery visits the space station in July. Once Reiter arrives, the station's long-duration crew will be three in number for the first time since May 2003, following the Columbia disaster that February.

"Since the Columbia went down back in 2003 the space station has only been able to support two person crews," says CBS News Space Consultant Bill Harwood. "The Russian Soyuz and their unmanned progress supply ships can't carry enough water and supplies to support a three person crew which is what NASA and the International Partners want. It really takes the shuttle to carry the supplies the station needs and also to complete the assembly [of the station]."

A video camera aboard the craft showed Pontes wearing a wide smile, giving a thumbs-up and pointing to the Brazilian flag on the left arm of his spacesuit.

At Baikonur, a crowd of about 150 relatives of the crew, space officials and journalists craned their necks to follow the trajectory of the rocket after its ground-shaking liftoff into the bright morning sky.

"It was very emotional. I can't even explain how I feel - very, very happy," Pontes' wife Fatima said.

"I was crying during the launch because his dream came true," chimed in the couple's 15-year-old daughter, Ana.

  • Bob Bicknell

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