The Soviet Union launched two cosmonauts into orbit aboard a capsule designated Soyuz 32 today, Tass reported. They are to man the space station Salyut 6, which has been circling the globe for 16 months.
Tass identified the two as Air Force Lt. Col. Vladimir Lyakhov, 37, the flight commander, and civilian flight engineer Valery Ryumin, 39, who was making his second space flight.
Ryumin was on the Soyuz 25 flight in October 1977 that failed to dock with Salyut 6 and was brought back prematurely.
The Salyut scientific station has been the orbiting home for several crews, including cosmonauts Vladimir Kovalenok and Alexander Ivanchenkov, who set a world space endurance record by staying aloft for 139 days, 14 hours and 49 minutes.
Soyuz 32 is the first Soviet manned space mission since Kovalenok and Ivanchenkov returned to Earth Nov. 2.
The United States has not launched a manned space flight since Apollo 18 in 1975. The longest U.S. flight was in 1973-74, the 84-day mission of three astronauts aboard Skylab 4.
Previous crews aboard Salyut 6 have included cosmonauts from Czechoslovakia, East Germany and Poland as part of the Soviet bloc's Intercosmos program.
Moscow observers said that judging from past practice a Soviet flight commander and a non-Soviet partner, possibly a Bulgarian or a Mongolian, amy be launched to the station within a week.
"The cosmonauts feel well. Onboard systems are functioning normally," the Soviet news agency said. Soviet national television interrupted regular programming to report the launch.
The Salyut station, where Soyuz 32 is expected to dock in about two days, provides a longterm base where cosmonauts can carry out detailed technical, scientific and medical experiments, photograph the Earth's surface and practice docking techniques for supply and other manned craft sent to the station.
A Soviet official said after the launch that the "main trend" in the Soviet space program is "the perfection of orbital systems" including manned spacecraft, orbital stations and supply craft.
Lyakhov was born in the Urkraine and has been a career officer in the Soviet Air Force. Ryumin, from Siberia, served in the Soviet Army, took a degree in forestry engineering and later became a designer of space equipment.