A Russian Soyuz spacecraft carrying a three-man, multi-national crew sped toward a rendezvous with the International Space Station, following a successful lift off early Wednesday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.Cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, the Soyuz commander, flight engineers Don Pettit, of NASA, and Andre Kuipers, of the European Space Agency, were on course to dock with the orbiting science laboratory on Dec. 23 at 10:22 a.m., EST.
The linkup will restore the station to sustained six person crew operations for the first since mid-September, when staffing was reduced in response to the late August third stage failure of a similar Soyuz booster carrying a Progress cargo capsule. The newcomers plan software upgrades to the station's U. S. segment; the February launch and arrival of the SpaceX Dragon, the first U. S. commercial re-supply craft, a mid-February Russian spacewalk; and the March launch and arrival of the third European Space Agency Automated Transfer Vehicle with cargo.
The five month Soyuz 29S mission began with a lift off from Baikonur at 8:16 a.m., EST, 7:16 p.m., local time, under clear skies and frigid temperatures. Within 10 minutes of the departure, the Soyuz TMA-03M spacecraft settled into a preliminary orbit and deployed solar arrays and communications antennas. The Soyuz-FG booster performance was flawless.
The newcomers will be greeted as they dock by the station's Expedition 30 commander astronaut Dan Burbank, of NASA, and Russian flight engineers, Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin.