Three new space station crewmembers are on their way to the International Space Station after a successful launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on July 22.
Crew aboard the Soyuz TMA-17M spacecraft include Commander Oleg Kononenko of the Russian Federal Space Agency, or Roscosmos; and Flight Engineers Kjell Lindgren of NASA; and Kimiya Yui of the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency, or JAXA. They were expected to reach the ISS just six hours after liftoff, joining those aboard orbiting station — American Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonauts Gennady Padalka and Mikhail Kornienko.
Docking operations were expected to commence just before 8 p.m. PST.
“Everything is fine onboard,” a mission control spokeswoman repeatedly reported during the first several minutes of the launch.
The launch was viewable by video on the NASA web site and an onboard camera showed the seat crewmembers as the spacecraft headed into space.
“Welcome to space,” the NASA webcast narrator said just after the spacecraft’s third-stage separation occurred eight minutes post-launch.
“Preparations for the launch have proceeded relatively smoothly, despite Russian media reports this week that the mission could have been delayed by a day due to a claimed issue with the launch vehicle,” NASA noted just after launch. “However, Roscosmos were quick to allay fears of a slip, noting the vehicle was in good shape to conduct the launch on Wednesday. The State Commission then provided the official approval for launch during the countdown.
The newly arriving crew replace U.S. Commander Terry Virts of NASA, Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti of the European Space Agency and the Ukranian-born Russian cosmonaut Russian Anton Shkaplerov of Roscosmos. The trio returned to Earth on June 11, using another Soyez craft to set down in Kazakhstan.
Virts, Cristoforetti and Shkaplerov arrived at the International Space Station on Nov. 24, 2014, and spent more than six months conducting research and technology demonstrations while clocking almost 84 million space miles.
SpaceX and Boeing have government contracts to build rockets for shuttling crew to the ISS. But the appropriations legislation tends to be contentious when bills are voted upon in Congress, and Russian rockets are being used for piloted spaceflights until longer-term funding issues are sorted out.
Image: NASA/A. Gemignani