A Soyuz rocket carrying a new crew for the International Space Station got an unexpected sendoff when it blasted off late last night (Oct. 7) in the form of a farewell appearance from Russian spy Anna Chapman, according to media reports.
Chapman was sighted by the Associated Press at Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan just before the 7:10 p.m. EDT (2310 GMT) launch of a new Soyuz TMA-01M spacecraft to ferry an American astronaut and two cosmonauts to the International Space Station. A photo released by the AP shows the red-haired Chapman, clad in red jacket and carrying a blue bag.
Chapman was one of 10 Russians arrested for spying in the United States this year. She was deported in July during a trade with Russia that returned four men accused by Russia of spying for the West.
The AP reported that Chapman did not offer any comments for her appearance at the Soyuz rocket launch other than saying she had "just arrived." She was later ushered into a guarded guest house after the farewell ceremony, the AP reported.
The news service cited an unnamed source in the Russian Federal Space Agency, who reportedly said Chapman attended the Soyuz rocket launch to represent a Russian bank.
The Soyuz TMA-01M launched American astronaut Scott Kelly and cosmonauts Alexander Kaleri and Oleg Skripochka to the space station. The three men plan to join three other crewmembers already onboard the space station for a five-month stay on the orbiting lab.
Kelly is a U.S. Navy captain and veteran NASA astronaut who also has an identical twin brother ? Mark Kelly ? who is also a Navy captain and astronaut. In a space first, the two brothers are expected to meet up at the space station in February 2011 when their two space missions coincide.
Kaleri is Russia's second most-experienced cosmonaut and is making his fifth spaceflight with the current mission. Skripochka is a test-cosmonaut making his first spaceflight.
While the rocket lifted off at 7:10 p.m. EDT Thursday night, it was actually 5:10 a.m. local time at the Central Asian spaceport.
The Soyuz TMA-01M spacecraft is a new model of Russia's long-running Soyuz class space capsules. It includes improved guidance, navigation, control, and data processing systems, in addition to an improved cooling device for the electronics.
The Soyuz is due to dock at the space station tomorrow (Oct. 9) at 8:02 p.m. EDT (0002 GMT Sunday).