Rocket launched to International Space Station to rescue stranded astronauts

An unmanned rocket has been launched in a bid to bring home three astronauts stranded on the International Space Station (ISS).

The Soyuz MS-23 took off from Kazakhstan in the early hours of Friday morning (February 24) to rescue US astronaut Frank Rubio and Russian cosmonauts Dmitry Petelin and Sergei Prokopyev after their return vehicle was hit and damaged by a tiny meteoroid.

NASA, an ISS partner, released footage of the launch, which saw the impressive rocket lift off at 5.24am local time (12.24am GMT).

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The rocket will spend the next two days in transit to the ISS, located 408 km from Earth.

But although the space capsule will dock at the ISS on Sunday, it won't bring home the three men until September.

Rubio, Petelin and Prokopyev arrived at the ISS last September on the MS-22 and planned to stay there for around six months, with their return scheduled for the end of March this year.

But their ride home started leaking coolant on December 14, not long before the two cosmonauts were set to embark on a spacewalk.

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US and Russian space officials believe the damage to the return vehicle was caused by a tiny space rock, sparking fears over potential problems the aircraft could face during reentry, when the capsule is subjected to extreme temperatures.

The MS-23, which set off from the Russian-operated Baikonur Cosmodrome in southern Kazakhstan, was supposed to launch in mid-March and be manned by another astronaut and two more cosmonauts, who would take over from Rubio, Petelin and Prokopyev.

But now that the rocket has been launched unmanned, the unlucky trio will have to stay at the ISS for almost a year.

The astronauts are not alone, however – four other crew members, who arrived on a SpaceX Dragon capsule as part of a Crew-5 mission last October, are also on board the ISS.

Next week they will be joined by members of the Crew-6 Mission, who will arrive on another SpaceX vehicle set to launch from Florida on Monday (February 27).

Crew-5 are then expected to return to Earth after a few days.

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