Russia’s express crew mission to the International Space Station succeeded late March 28, as the Soyuz TMA-08M capsule carrying two cosmonauts and a U.S. astronaut docked to the orbiting science lab within 6 hr. of liftoff.

A second Soyuz crew will attempt to duplicate the fast-track transit in May, as the ISS partnership assesses the merits and challenges of routinely expediting what is normally a 34-orbit journey over two days for ISS astronauts in the close confines of the venerable Russian capsules.

 The TMA-08M, with Pavel Vinogradov, Aleksandr Misurkin and Chris Cassidy aboard, docked in automated mode to the station’s Russian Poisk module at 10:28 p.m. EDT. The three-stage Soyuz rocket carrying the Soyuz crew lifted off from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 4:43 p.m. EDT, in the early morning of March 29 local time.

A series of four key rendezvous maneuvers in the flight’s first orbit of the Earth accelerated the trip.

“To have that all work together is phenomenal,” said Bill Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for human exploration and operations, who was among those from NASA at Baikonur. Gerstenmaier underscored the potential value of future rapid transits to research teams that want to hasten the journey for fragile biological materials destined for space station experiments. “This could be a distinct advantage for the science community,” he noted.

The newcomers were greeted by ISS Expedition 35 commander Chris Hadfield, of Canada, NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn and cosmonaut Roman Romanenko. Vinogradov, Misurkin and Cassidy, who trained for a five- to six-month stay, replace U.S. and Russian crewmembers who departed for Earth in mid-March.

“It looked like the whole flight happened nominally,” Vladimir Popovkin, director of Roscosmos, the Russian federal space agency, reported from Baikonur after the two crews greeted one another. It appeared the Soyuz crew arrived in good health, he told a news briefing.

A U.S., European and Russian crew are training to repeat the expedited flight on May 28 on the Soyuz TMA-09M spacecraft, he said.

The TMA-08M flight was preceded by three successful Progress cargo missions to the orbital outpost on the same expedited rendezvous trajectory in February, October and August. The successful supply missions were a factor in the decision to attempt the faster flights with astronauts.

“What you got to see today was the result of a lot of practice and great engineering,” Gerstenmaier told the Baikonur news briefing. “Flying this profile with the Progress vehicles gave us the assurance that when we needed to do this with crew, it would work as smoothly as you saw it work today.”

In addition to furthering research objectives, the faster Soyuz transits could increase the comfort of space station crews in the early hours of their acclimation to weightlessness. However, the short flights require more work by flight control teams to improve the precision of their tracking of the space station prior to the launch.

Command of the orbiting research lab will transition from Hadfield to Vinogradov, a veteran of two previous long-duration missions to the ISS and Russia’s former Mir space station, in mid May. Cassidy, a U.S. Navy Seal, is a shuttle mission veteran. Misurkin is flying for the first time.

They are scheduled to join future ISS crewmembers for up to seven spacewalks in the coming months. Some of the external activities will install power and data cables for the future arrival of Russia’s Nauka Multipurpose Laboratory Module. The new astronauts also are preparing for the arrival of Russian, European, Japanese, and U.S. commercial supply capsules.