Russia’s Soyuz TMA-08M spacecraft docked with the International Space Station late Thursday, delivering a three man U.S. and Russian crew, the first astronauts to carry out a six-hour expedited launch to docking with the International Space Station.
Three man, U.S. and Russian Soyuz crew on final approach as the astronauts achieve a six hour launch to docking with the International Space Station. Photo Credit: NASA TV
The Soyuz transport carried out the automated docking with the Russian segment Poisk module at 10:28 p.m., EDT, four orbits, or just under six hours after lifting off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The standard journey typically unfolds over two days, or 34 orbits.
Newcomers Pavel Vinogradov, Aleksandr Misurkin and NASA’s Chris Cassidy were greeted by ISS Expedition 35 commander Chris Hadfield, of the Canadian Space Agency, NASA’s Tom Marshburn and cosmonaut Roman Romanenko.
The latest Soyuz spacecraft climbed through a moonlit sky Thursday as it departed the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 4:43 p.m., EDT, or 2:43 a.m. local time, to begin the expedited Earth to station transit.
NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy seated aboard Russia's Soyuz TMA-08M spacecraft as lift off nears. Photo Credit: NASA TV
The ISS Mission Management Team approved the sprint after three unpiloted Russian Progress cargo flights paved the way in February, October and August. For future station crews, the one day journey from launch pad to space station eliminates some of the discomfort that comes from the venerable Soyuz spacecraft’s close quarters, including the space motion sickness that many experience during the first hours of weightlessness.
The expedited journey was pioneered by cosmonauts launched to the former Soviet Union’s Salyut space stations in the 1970s and 1980s. NASA’s two man Gemini VII and V1 crews followed a similar strategy to rendezvous in Earth orbit in December 1965.
The faster trips carry a heavier work load for ISS flight control teams, who must closely calculate the position of the space station before launching Soyuz crews on the faster rendezvous trajectory. Each orbit raising or orbital debris avoidance maneuver of the station must be scrutinized with added precision. The influence of atmospheric drag on the 360-foot long space station must be tracked closely as well.
Vinogradov, Misurkin and Cassidy have trained for a five- to six-month stay aboard the six-person orbiting science lab. They will join future colleagues for up to seven spacewalks in the coming weeks. High priority tasks include the installation of external power and data cables for the arrival of Russia’s Nauka Multipurpose Laboratory Module, possibly late this year. Spacewalkers will also lubricate the big rotating mechanisms that allow outstretched U. S. solar arrays to track the sun and generate electricity. Difficulties with the U. S. segment’s Ku band communications antenna system is likely to receive some troubleshooting as well.
Vinogradov, who is slated to transition to space station commander as Hadfield, Marshburn and Romanenko depart in late May, and his Soyuz colleagues can also expect to receive Japanese, European and U.S. commercial resupply craft as well as Russian Progress cargo capsules.
Hadfield and his colleagues will be quickly replaced by new U.S., Russian and European astronauts who will join Vinogradov, Misurkin and Cassidy for Expedition 36.
Meanwhile, the newest additions to Expedition 35 are prepared to participate in and oversee more than 200 science experiments and technology demonstrations underway on the orbiting science laboratory.