The launching of the Soyuz 29S mission was set for 8:16 a.m., EST, or 7:16 p.m., local time.NASA's Don Pettit, Andre Kuipers of the European Space Agency and Soyuz commander Oleg Kononenko are scheduled to dock with the orbiting science laboratory on Friday at 10:23 a.m, ESTThe 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 early agenda for the new arrivals includes software upgrades to the station's U. S. segment; the February launch and docking of the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft, the first U. S. commercial re-supply craft; a mid-February Russian spacewalk to move the external Strela cargo boom and install space debris shielding; and the March launch and arrival of the third European Space Agency Automated Transfer Vehicle, another supply craft.As they dock, the Soyuz 29S crew will be greeted by commander Dan Burbank, of NASA, and Russian flight engineers Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin.Except for a brief period, the space station has been staffed by three rather than a full crew of six astronauts since mid-September.The Aug. 24 failure of the Soyuz-U launcher a little over five minutes into flight sent its Progress cargo capsule plummeting back to Earth.The crash prompted a suspension of the similar Soyuz-FG crew launch vehicle as well. A Russian investigation traced the cause to a blockage in a third stage fuel line and poor quality control. The incident led to a recall of Soyuz hardware and the implementation of new production line inspection procedures.Russia's timely recovery prevented a mid-November decision by station managers to temporarily operate the station without crew if Russia's recovery required more time.The outpost has been staffed continuously since November 2000.
Russia's Soyuz 29S mission will deliver NASA astronaut Don Pettit, Russian cosmonaut Oleg
Kononenko and European Space Agency astronaut Andre Kuipers of the Netherlands, seated
left to right, to the International Space Station. Photo Credit/NASA
U. S., Russian and Dutch astronauts were seated aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft early Wednesday, awaiting lift off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on a mission intended to restore sustained six crew operations to the International Space Station for the first time in three months.