(Fixes GMT time in 2nd paragraph)
By Irene Klotz
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. May 28 Leaving politics
behind, a veteran Russian cosmonaut and a pair of rookie
astronauts from the United States and Germany blasted off from
the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Wednesday for a
six-month mission aboard the International Space Station.
The crew's Russian Soyuz rocket lifted off at 3:57 p.m. EDT
(1957 GMT) and headed into orbit, a live broadcast on NASA
Perched on top of the rocket was a Russian Soyuz capsule
holding cosmonaut Maxim Suraev, a retired Russian Air Force
colonel; NASA astronaut and U.S. Navy pilot Reid Wiseman; and
German astronaut and geophysicist Alexander Gerst.
"Adrenaline is rising, but feel relaxed," Gerst, 38, posted
on Twitter as he and his crewmates rode a bus out to the
The men were due to reach the station, a $100 billion
research laboratory that flies about 260 miles (418 km) above
Earth, about six hours later. The station, a project of 15
nations, is overseen by the United States and Russia.
Tensions between the countries have been strained following
Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea peninsula and economic
sanctions imposed by the United States as punishment. But until
recently, the space partnership was largely exempt from the
political rancor and the sanctions' financial impacts.
That ended earlier this month when Russian officials said
they would not support a U.S. proposal to keep the station
operating beyond 2020. Russia also imposed its own ban on
selling Russian rocket motors for U.S. military launches, a more
immediate concern since one of two primary rockets currently
flying U.S. military missions use Russian-made engines.
At a prelaunch press conference on Tuesday, the new space
station crew was asked if the escalating tensions were having
any impact on their mission.
In response, Suraev, Reid and Gerst slapped their arms
around each other and hugged.
Aboard the space station, currently staffed by NASA
astronaut Steven Swanson and two Russian cosmonauts, it's
business as usual, Swanson said during an inflight interview
broadcast on NASA Television on Tuesday.
"We don't talk about it much, honestly," Swanson said. "It
does not affect our working relationship. We get along very
well. There are no issues at all up here."
(Editing by Eric Walsh)