A Russian Soyuz spacecraft is carrying three new crewmembers to the International Space Station after its launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
A few minutes prior to the Sept. 2 liftoff, the crew could be heard listening to the Rolling Stones’ “Play With Fire,” as music was pumped into their Soyuz cabin.
The launch — which employed a Soyuz-FG rocket — was conducted on schedule at 12:37 a.m. EDT, and orbit was achieved by 12:48 a.m.
Docking is expected Sept. 4. The trip could be made in as little as six hours, but Russian space agency Roscosmos decided to use a wider orbit to get to the ISS to ensure it dodges any space junk in the neighborhood.
The arriving Soyuz TMA-18M will remain docked at the station for about six months, designated as an emergency escape pod. Ultimately, the Soyuz will be used by two 12-month mission crewmembers now aboard the ISS — Scott Kelly of NASA and Mikhail Kornienko of Roscosmos — to return to Earth next March.
The latest launch represents the 127th flight of a Soyuz spacecraft, dating from 1967. British singer Sarah Brightman had been penciled in as a member of the mission, but Brightman announced May 13 that she had withdrawn from her space-tourist training.
As things turned out, the three crew members now headed toward to the ISS include Commander Sergei Volkov of Russia’s Roscosmos; European Space Agency flight engineer Andreas Mogensen of Denmark; and Kazakstan’s Aidyn Aimbetov, who joined the mission after Brightman’s exit. Mogensen and Aimbeto are the first in space from their countries.
Only Volkov will remain aboard the ISS for a typical six-month rotation. Mogensen and Aimbetoc will return after 10 days on another Soyuz aircraft docked at the ISS — TMA-16M — along with Gennady Padalka, a Russian with Roscosmos now serving as ISS commander. The schedule calls for them to land in Kazakhstan on Sept. 11.
That will leave the ISS with a typical six-member crew: Kelly, Kornienko, Volkov, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren and Japanese astronaut Kimiya Yui of space agency JAXA.
Meantime, with the newly arriving crewmembers the ISS will have a nine-member crew for the first time since November 2013. SpaceX and Boeing have government contracts to build rockets for shuttling astronauts to the ISS, ending a long reliance on Russia to stage all such missions. But congressional funding of U.S. manned shuttles has been slow, and Russia will continue to handle all crew shuttles until 2017 and perhaps longer.
Manned launches are always closely watched, but the latest successful launch was particularly well tracked around the world due to a spate of rocket and craft failures in unmanned ISS missions during the past year. Among them was a Russian mission failure last April 28, when a cargo craft headed for the ISS, Progress 59, tumbled from orbit shortly after separating from its rocket.