A Soyuz crew transport capsule delivered three U.S., Russian and European astronauts to the International Space Station late Tuesday, as it completed a second successful "express" flight to the orbiting science lab.
Russia's Soyuz TMA-09M with Fyodor Yurchikhin, Karen Nyberg and Luca Parmitano climbs into the night sky over Kazakhstan. Photo Credit:NASA TV
The transport with NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg, European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano, of Italy, and cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin carried out an automated docking with the orbiting lab's Russian segment Rassvet module at 10:10 p.m., EDT, less than six hours after lifting off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
The four-orbit launch-to-docking flight profile is poised to replace the traditional two day, 34-orbit transit for most future Soyuz crew missions. The NASA-led ISS mission management team plans further deliberations on the "lessons learned" from a similar March 28 "express" Soyuz crew mission as well as three prior Progress cargo missions that followed the same rapid trajectory in 2012-13 to pave the way.
NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg, cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin and Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano, pictured left to right, prepare for their lift off at the Baikonur Cosmodrome. Photo Credit: NASA TV
"In the summer we will step back, based on two flights and our experiences, to make a determination and a recommendation to our Russian colleagues, Mike Suffredini, NASA's ISS space station program manager, told a news briefing earlier this month. "I suspect there will be some answer that says maybe not in all cases. We hope to sort that all out."
The Soyuz spacecraft lifted off from Baikonur on Tuesday at 4:41 p.m., EST, or on Wednesday at 2:31 a.m., local time, climbing through darkened skies. The multinational crew settled into orbit nine minutes later with successful deployments of solar arrays and communications antennas.
The only issue en route involved an ISS beta gimbal assembly, a tracking mechanism on one of the station's solar panels, which failed to lock in place well ahead of the crew transport's anticipated docking. The mechanism locked on a second attempt without interrupting the rendezvous and docking activities, said NASA spokesman Kelly Humphries.
The newcomers were greeted by ISS Expedition 36 commander Paval Vinogradov, his fellow cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin and NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy. The latest arrivals replace Canadian Chris Hadfield, American Tom Marshburn and Russian Roman Romanenko, who departed the ISS for Earth aboard their Soyuz spacecraft on May 13.
Nyberg, a 43-year-old mechanical engineer, is making her second trip to orbit; Parmitano, a 36-year-old Italian Air Force major and test pilot is flying for the first time. Yurchikhin, a 54-year-old mechanical engineer, has logged two previous ISS missions as a commander and flight engineer. He launched for the first time as a NASA space shuttle crew member in 2002.
Their planned five- to six-month mission will include five to six spacewalks to prepare for the anticipated arrival of the Russian Nauka multipurpose laboratory module in December, maintenance activities outside the U.S. segment and work with external experiments.
Nyberg, Parmitano and Yurchikhin are scheduled to receive unpiloted European, Russian, Japanese and U.S. commercial cargo vessels as well as carry out a demanding agenda of science experiments and technology demonstrations.