Cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov, left, and Anatoly Ivanishin await their lift off aboard the Soyuz 28 mission spacecraft. NASA astronaut Dan Burbank. seated to Shkaplerov's right, is out of the picture. Photo Credit/NASA TV
Russia's Soyuz 28 spacecraft hurtled safely into orbit with a three-man crew late Sunday, easing concerns of a post shuttle-era evacuation of the International Space Station. The concerns were prompted by the late August loss of an unpiloted Progress cargo capsule aboard a similar version of the venerable booster.
The Soyuz FG spacecraft rose through heavy snow from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 11:14 p.m., EDT, or Monday at 10:14 a.m., at the Central Asian launch complex, with Dan Burbank, of NASA, and cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin on board.The Soyuz 28 spacecraft climbs through a snow filled sky in Kazakhstan. Photo Credit/NASA TV
Within 10 minutes, the first piloted Soyuz mission since the Progress 44 loss settled into an initial orbit with solar arrays and communications antennas successfully deployed.
The Aug. 24 third stage failure of a Soyuz U rocket sent the station bound freighter plummeting into a remote region of Siberia. Russia's Soyuz emerged as the only means of reaching the orbiting science lab with astronauts as NASA's shuttle program entered retirement in late July.
The Soyuz 28 crew is scheduled to dock with the station on Wednesday at 12:33 a.m., EDT, briefly reinstating the six person operations essential for sustained science activities, normal maintenance and timely responses to unexpected equipment failures.
Staffing dropped to three, NASA's Mike Fossum, Sergey Volkov of Russia and Satoshi Furukawa of Japan, in mid-September, while Russian investigators pursued a root cause for the Progress loss and a recovery plan. The U. S.-led 15 nation station partnership prepared to evacuate the orbital outpost in late November if the Russians needed more time.
Russian investigators identified a fuel line blockage in the third stage of the Soyuz U booster as the root cause. Previously manufactured propulsion hardware was recalled; the Russians imposed new quality control measures before returning the Soyuz cargo version to flight on Oct. 30 with the successful launching of the Progress 45 mission.
Under current planning, Fossum, Volkov and Furukawa will descend to Earth aboard the Soyuz 27 spacecraft late Nov. 21, following a 167-day mission.
Sustained six person crew operations are scheduled to resume Dec. 23 with the docking of the Soyuz 29 spacecraft transporting a U.S., Russian and European crew. Don Pettit, Oleg Kononenko and Andre Kuipers are scheduled to lift off from Kazakhstan in the Soyuz two days earlier.
Shkaplerov, 39, is a Russian Air Force colonel, and serving as the Soyuz 28 commander. Ivanishin, 42, is a Russian Air Force lieutenant colonel. Burbank, 50, is a retired U. S. Coast Guard Captain. Burbank participated in a pair of shuttle space station assembly missions in 2006 and 2000.
The cosmonauts are flying for the first time.