U.S., Russian Soyuz Crew Lifts Off for International Space Station


30 Mission Soyuz rises from Kazakhstan with U. S., Russian International Space Station crew.   Photo Credit/NASA TV

Russia's 30 Soyuz mission spacecraft sped toward a docking with the International Space Station early Thursday, following a flawless countdown and climb to orbit from the Baikonur Cosmodrome with two cosmonauts and a U.S. astronaut.

The TMA-04M transport carrying Gennady Padalka, Sergei Revin and NASA's Joe Acaba lifted off on Monday at 11:01 p.m., EDT, or Tuesday at 9:01 a.m., at the launch site, under sunny skies. The capsule, secured atop the three-stage Soyuz launcher, settled into an initial orbit nine minutes later to initiate the two day transit.

"Everything is okay on board," Padalka, the Soyuz commander, radioed Mission Control Moscow midway through the ascent. "We feel good."

The three men were on an initial course to dock with the orbiting science lab's Russian segment Poisk module on Thursday at 12:39 a.m., EDT.

Cosmonauts Sergei Revin and Gennady Padalka and NASA astronaut Joseph Acaba, pictured left to right, lift off on four-month mission to space station. Photo Credit: NASA

The linkup will restore the station to six-person operations for the first time since April 27, when three U.S. and Russian fliers descended to Earth after 5.5 months in orbit. The newcomers will be greeted by Expedition 31 commander Oleg Kononenko, of Russia; American Don Pettit; and Andre Kuipers of the European Space Agency. They've served aboard the station since late December.

Full crew operations resume just days before the scheduled launching of the SpaceX Falcon 9/Dragon on the first U.S. commercial re-supply mission to the ISS. Lift off of the Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla., is set for Saturday at 4:55 a.m., EDT.

The unpiloted Dragon, carrying just over 1,000 pounds of  non-critical supplies, is scheduled to approach within range of the station's 58-foot-long Canadarm 2 early May 22.  Pettit and Kuipers will be poised at the controls of the station's Canadarm2, ready to grapple Dragon and berth the capsule to the station's U. S. segment Harmony module.

Padalka, who served as the station's commander in 2009 and 2004, is scheduled to again assume overall responsibility for the safety of the station and its crew in early July, as Kononenko, Pettit and Kuipers end their six month tour of duty. Padalka also served as the commander of Russia's former Mir space station in 1998-99.

Revin, an NPO Energia flight test engineer, is flying for the first time.

Acada, one of NASA's educator astronauts, is a former Florida middle and high school science and math teacher and a U. S. Peace Corps volunteer. He served aboard a shuttle space station assembly mission in 2009.

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