Russia Launches Rocket From Cosmodrome

MOSCOW (AP) -- Russia on Thursday successfully launched the first rocket from its new space facility after a last-minute delay the day before.

The Soyuz 2.1a booster blasted off from the Vostochny Cosmodrome in the Russian Far Easter in the early hours Moscow time on Thursday. The Roscosmos space agency said in a statement that the three satellites the rocket was carrying orbited several hours later.

The launch was originally scheduled for Wednesday but was called off 1 ½ minute before the planned lift off. President Vladimir Putin flew to Vostochny for the launch and had to extend his stay in order to see it on Thursday.

Putin, who watched the launch from about a mile (1.6 kms) away on Thursday. congratulated the facility's staff.

"This is just the first stage of enormous work, and everything you were supposed to do you did brilliantly," he said in televised comments.

The launch pad is so far equipped only for the launches of rockets carrying small cargo like satellites. More facilities have to be built there to accommodate heavy-lift launch vehicles and service manned launches.

Roscosmos officials said on Wednesday the space agency was working to pinpoint what went wrong on Wednesday.

The construction of the vast space complex some 5,500 kilometers (3,400 miles) east of Moscow has been troubled by delays — the first launch had been expected about four months ago — and dogged by corruption scandals. Workers who had complained of going unpaid for months went on strike last spring. The directors of three project subcontractors were arrested on corruption charges.