Russia is making its final preparations for the launch of its Soyuz spacecraft to the International Space Station ahead of the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s first manned journey into space.
The TMA-21 rocket is being moved into position at the Baikonur launch pad in Kazakhstan before the scheduled blast off date on Tuesday.
The craft will have an international crew of US astronaut Ron Garan, and Russian cosmonauts Aleksander Samokutyaev and Andrei Borisenko.
Memento: Onlookers take a snap as the Russian Soyuz TMA-21 rocket is mounted.
Prepare for take off: Service towers move towards the spacecraft, named after the first cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, as it is set on its launch pad at Baikonur cosmodrome.
Guard: A Russian policeman stands guard near the rocket.
The launch was originally delayed from March 30 so experts could resolve a communication problem with the Soyuz, raising fears over its reliability and whether the mission would begin in time to honour the April 12 anniversary of cosmonaut Gagarin’s first manned flight into space.
The Soyuz TMA-21 is named after Gagarin, who went on to become Deputy Training Director of the Cosmonaut Training Centre outside Moscow.
However he died tragically in 1968 when his training jet crashed, with the actual circumstances of his death remaining a world mystery.
Transporter: The Soyuz TMA-21 rocket is moved to the launch pad by railcar.
Security: The rocket is surrounded by security before launch as it is moved into position.
Since his death the Cosmonaut Training Centre has been renamed in his honour, while the Russian village of Gzhatsk, which was adjacent to his home town, was also renamed Gagarin.
NASA, which is retiring its shuttle fleet after two more flights this year, has relied exclusively on Russian Soyuz craft for space station crew transport since late 2009.
The European Space Agency announced yesterday that its base in French Guiana was now ready for its first launch.
According to Nasa, more than 1,500 launches have been made with Soyuz launchers to orbit satellites for telecommunications, Earth observation, weather and scientific missions, as well as for human flights.
The Agency says that the rocket is moved to the launch pad on a horizontal railcar. Transfer is generally two days before launch, during which time a launch rehearsal is performed that includes activation of all electrical and mechanical equipment.
On launch day, the vehicle is loaded with propellant – liquid oxygen and kerosene – and the final countdown starts three hours before lift off time.
A specialist holds ropes attached to spacecraft, which was tracked by guards as it was transferred to the site of Tuesday’s launch.
Honoured: The rocket is named after Yuri Gagarin, here with British Prime Minister Harold MacMillan, who was internationally feted after he became the first man to journey into space.