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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Rocket Carries Baturin And Crew Into Orbit

BAIKONUR, Kazakhstan -- Russia launched its first bureaucrat into space Thursday as he and two professional cosmonauts headed for the 12-year-old Mir space station.

The craft carrying Yury Baturin, 49, a former defense adviser to President Boris Yeltsin, blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on Thursday, was scheduled to dock with Mir on Saturday, officials said.

"Everything is working according to plan, we feel well," commander Gennady Padalka, 40, said after liftoff. The third man aboard the cramped Soyuz TM-28 spacecraft is flight engineer Sergei Avdeyev, 42.

Television footage from inside the capsule showed Baturin during the launch dressed in a spacesuit gripping a flight manual.

Baturin, who survived years in the rough and tumble of Russian politics, blasted into space showing not the slightest sign of stress.

A Russian space program doctor said Baturin's heartbeat remained normal as he and two professional cosmonauts took off atop a Proton rocket to rendezvous with the orbiting Mir space station.

"He was calm and everything was normal," said mission control's duty flight surgeon, Alexei Sergeyev.

"He graduated from the school of the Russian government, so he's a calm person. Russian bureaucrats can get used to anything."

Baturin's presence attracted heavy Russian media coverage. Officials said his former official role helped his selection for the mission, but he was a qualified cosmonaut.

"We can teach anyone to become a cosmonaut as long as he is not an idiot," Mir deputy flight director Viktor Blagov said in a telephone interview.

The former Kremlin adviser is to make a comparatively short visit to Mir, returning with the current crew members, Talgat Musabayev and Nikolai Budarin, on Aug. 25. The two other new arrivals are to spend at least six months on board.

Mir awaits the new crew with one of its automatic Kurs docking systems malfunctioning. Blagov said Mir would employ a backup system, and if that failed, go to a manual docking.

"We are not worried. We now have two options for docking," he said. "But we are sending up two new Kurs systems for the main part of the station. As soon as the Soyuz capsule arrives, they'll install the new equipment and all systems will return to normal."

A Mir replacement crew arriving a year ago had to dock manually when the automatic system failed at the last moment.

Mir experienced a near-fatal collision with a cargo ship in June 1997 when the commander attempted a manual docking. Subsequent crews have repaired most of the damage, although one of the station's seven capsules remains sealed off.

"Today's successful launch shows that Russia's space industry is alive and well," Yevgeny Shaposhnikov, adviser to Yeltsin on aviation and space matters, said on Russian television.