Russian, Canadian, American woman begin space mission today

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The first manned space mission to the International Space Station since an
unprecedented accident in October, which raised concerns about Moscow’s Soviet-
designed spacecraft, will launch on Monday.

Oleg Kononenko of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, Anne McClain of NASA and
David Saint-Jacques of the Canadian Space Agency brushed aside any possible
safety concerns, saying risk was just part of the job.

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They are set to launch at 1131 GMT Monday aboard a Soyuz from Baikonur in
Kazakhstan for a six-and-a-half month mission.

The launch comes after a Soyuz rocket carrying Russia’s Aleksey Ovchinin and US
astronaut Nick Hague failed on October 11 just minutes after blast-off, forcing
the pair to make an emergency landing.

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They escaped unharmed but the failed launch was the first such incident in
Russia’s post-Soviet history and a new setback for the country’s once proud
space industry.

Ahead of Monday’s launch a Russian Orthodox priest blessed the spaceship on its
launchpad, in accordance with tradition, while the crew spoke calmly of the
dangers involved.

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“Risk is part of our profession,” crew commander Oleg Kononenko told a news
conference at Baikonur on Sunday, adding they “absolutely” trusted teams
preparing them for the flight.

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“We are psychologically and technically prepared for blastoff and any situation
which, God forbid, may occur on board,” the 54-year-old said.

Kononenko added 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.

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

“We feel very ready for it,” she said.

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– ‘Soyuz in my backyard’ –

Canada’s Saint-Jacques, 48, described the Soyuz spacecraft 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.

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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.”

Of the trio set to reach the ISS six hours after blastoff, both Saint-Jacques
and McClain will fly for the first time.

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

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

The Soviet-designed Soyuz rocket is currently the world’s only lifeline to the
ISS.

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

Canada’s governor general and former astronaut Julie Payette is expected to be
among the dignitaries to watch Monday’s launch.

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McClain served in Iraq and has represented the United States at 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 so far remained one of the few areas not
affected by a crisis in ties between the former Cold War enemies.

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

He recently joked Russia 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 spacecraft and satellites.

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