Soyuz mission departs Baikonur Cosmodrome, Pad 31, with three Space Station crew members. Photo Credit: NASA photo
A Soyuz spacecraft carrying three U.S. and Russian astronauts sped toward an early Oct. 25 docking with the International Space Station and a planned five month stay, following a trouble-free lift off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan early Oct. 23.
Oleg Novitskiy, the Soyuz TMA-06M commander, Evgeni Tarelkin and NASA's Kevin Ford were accompanied by 32 Medaka fish as they lifted off from pad 31, a newly refurbished launch complex, at 6:51 a.m., EDT, or 4:51 p.m., local time.
NASA's Kevin Ford, left, joins cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy and Evgeni Tarelkin for journey to International Space Station. Photo Credit: NASA photo.
Within 10 minutes, the Soyuz crew settled into the transit's initial orbit. Successful deployments of the capsule's solar arrays and antennas followed.
A series of rendezvous maneuvers should bring the two spacecraft together on Oct. 25 at 8:35 a.m., EDT. They'll be greeted by station commander Sunita Williams of NASA, Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide and cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko. The newcomers will restore the station to six crew for the first time since Sept. 17, staffing that will be crucial to plans for upcoming supply craft operations, a recently scheduled U. S. spacewalk and an expanding science and research technology agenda that exceeds 200 projects.
New Space Station Aquatic Habitat will be home to fresh water Medaka. Photo Credit: NASA
"We really face a lot of tasks we will concentrate on right off the bat, once we get aboard," Ford noted during a pre-launch news briefing from Baikonur.
Novitskiy, 51, and Tarelkin 37, both Russian Air Force officers, are flying in space for the first time. Ford, 52, a retired U.S. Air Force test pilot, served as the pilot aboard STS-128, a 14-day NASA shuttle mission to the station in 2009. Ford is slated to assume command of the orbiting science laboratory as Williams and her crew depart for Earth on Nov. 18.
The Medaka will become the first tenants of a fresh water aquatic habitat delivered to the station in July aboard Japan's third H-II Transfer Vehicle re-supply mission. On Earth, the fish are neutrally buoyant in their natural environment, and researchers will compare their skeletal and muscle development in weightlessness to determine whether there are differences.
Members of the species have flown on previous shuttle research flights.
The newcomers' arrival will be followed by the scheduled Oct. 28 departure of the SpaceX Dragon reusable supply capsule with a return cargo. A Russian Progress re-supply capsule is scheduled to launch and dock on Oct. 31.
Williams and Hoshide are scheduled for a six to seven hour spacewalk on Nov. 1 to deal with an ammonia coolant leak on the station's U.S. segment P-6 solar power truss radiator.
The pad 31 operations at the Baikonur launch complex marked the first use of the complex for the departure of a human mission since July 17, 1984. Pad 1, the historic usual departure site, is undergoing refurbishments. Pad 1 supported the first human spaceflight, the single orbit of the Earth by Yuri Gagarin in 1961, and the launching of the first artificial satellite, Sputnik, in 1957.
Pad 31, already updated, supported the launch of a Progress re-supply mission to the space station in April.