Two Americans and a Russian blasted off from Central Asia aboard a Soyuz rocket on Tuesday, initiating a six-month mission to the International Space Station, where they will finish the outfitting of the newest module and tackle dozens of science experiments.
The spacecraft rose from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 5:35 p.m., EDT.
After a smooth nine minute ride to orbit, Fyodor Yurchikhin, Shannon Walker and Doug Wheelock began two days of maneuvers that will lead to a docking with the orbiting science laboratory on Thursday at 6:25 p.m., EDT.
“Everything is fine on board,” Yurchikhin, the Soyuz,commander reported, as the capsule settled into orbit.
“All the best,” responded Moscow’s Mission Control.
Once they reach the station, the Soyuz crew will be greeted by Russians Alexander Skvortsov, Mikhail Kornienko and Tracy Caldwell Dyson, who arrived aboard the station in early April.
“We are ready to get started,” Wheelock told a pre-launch news conference. Wheelock, a veteran of a 2007 shuttle assembly mission to the space station, will assume command of the orbital outpost in September.
“I’m happy, a little bit apprehensive,” added Walker, who is making her first spaceflight.
Yurchikhin is flying for a third time.
In May, the crew of the shuttle Atlantis delivered Russia’s Rassvet mini research and docking module.
In late July, Yurchikhin and Kornienko will team for a spacewalk that will prepare the new compartment for automated dockings by Russian Soyuz and Progress crew and cargo transport capsules.
Wheelock and Caldwell Dyson plan a pair of spacewalks in August for the installation of an anchor point on the station’s Russian segment for the Canadian robot arm. They also re-locate an external camera block to provide clearances for the future berthing of commercial and Japanese cargo craft.
Inside the orbital base, the station astronauts will supervise or participate in 130 science experiments that will focus on human adaptation to spaceflight, fundamental biology, biotechnology, physics, materials sciences, technology development, Earth observations and space science.
As they prepared to depart the Earth, the new station crew received a less formal assignment from one of their supervisors, NASA spaceflight chief Bill Gerstenmaier.
“I have a special request,” said Gerstenmaier. “Think about how the station can be used for exploration activities, how it can be used as a stepping stone to new and bigger things in the future.”