• Kyodo

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A Soyuz spacecraft carrying astronauts from Japan, Russia and the United States arrived at the International Space Station on Thursday morning nearly six hours after liftoff from Kazakhstan.

Their rocket blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome at 6:02 a.m. Japan time and separated from the launch vehicle on schedule nine minutes later. It then reached the ISS, at an altitude of 400 km, at 11:45 a.m.

The crew comprised Soyuz commander Oleg Kononenko, 51, of Russia, flight engineer Kimiya Yui, 45, of Japan, and flight engineer Kjell Lindgren, 42, of the United States.

Yui is the 10th Japanese to travel into space and the fifth to stay at the ISS for a long-term mission. He is tasked with carrying out various experiments in Kibo, Japan’s science research module, during a stay lasting five months.

Calling him a “star of middle-agers,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wished Yui on Thursday “great success in space by utilizing the various experiences he has had.” Abe also mentioned Yui’s background as a test pilot with the Air Self-Defense Force.

About 600 people, including schoolchildren, gathered for a public screening of the event in Yui’s hometown of Kawakami, Nagano Prefecture.

“I was nervous before the launch, but I’m glad it was successful,” said Ayaka Ide, a 13-year-old junior high school student who joined the public viewing from early in the morning. “If I can talk to him, I want to ask what the Earth looks like from outer space.”

Yoshiko Yui, 71, a cousin of Yui’s father, said she was “full of emotions thinking he realized his dream by working diligently.”

The Soyuz spacecraft was initially scheduled for launch on May 27, but its liftoff was postponed for around two months due to an investigation into the cause of a failed launch in April of a Progress resupply craft, which uses a similar rocket.

At an ASDF base in Gifu Prefecture, Maj. Takeshi Kondo, who served as a test pilot with Yui, said, “I remember Yui didn’t like vegetables and had been saying ‘eating capsules would suffice,’ so I think he is fit to be an astronaut.”

He had a message for his former colleague: “Enjoy the view from space.”

In August, when the Japanese unmanned cargo transfer vehicle Kounotori docks at the space station, Yui is scheduled to operate a robotic arm while communicating with astronaut Koichi Wakata on the ground.

At the ISS, U.S. and Russian astronauts have been working to collect basic data that may eventually realize a manned flight to Mars. Yui is set to support their work.

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