New Crew Headed To International Space Station
November 14, 2011

New Crew Headed To International Space Station

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An American astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts were launched successfully on Monday to return a full crew to the International Space Station (ISS), the first manned launching since the US shuttle program retired in July.

The launch also marks Russia´s return to confidence after a dramatic August launch failure and a recent Mars probe malfunction.

The three crew memebers, astronaut Dan Burbank, cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov and cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin, launched into space at 11:14 p.m. EST Sunday night (10:14 a.m. Monday local time) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The Soyuz rocket quickly disappeared into the low, dense cloud-cover as the region was embracing snowy conditions on take-off.

“The spaceship has reached orbit,” Flight Engineer Anton Shkaplerov said in a radioed message to Mission Control. Live television from inside the craft showed Shkaplerov monitoring the ascent from the capsule´s center seat, with flight engineer Ivanishin on the left and shuttle veteran Burbank to the right. All three looked relaxed in the cramped quarters as they climbed into orbit.

“The G loads are increasing slightly,” Shkaplerov radioed as the Soyuz accelerated. “Everything´s OK on board, the crew feels good.”

A few minutes later, the third stage ignited and continued boosting the Soyuz capsule to orbital velocity. In August, the third stage failure led to the destruction of Russia´s unmanned Progress supply ship, but the latest went off without a hitch. At nine minutes after liftoff, the capsule separated from the booster rocket´s upper stage and its solar arrays unfolded as planned.

The spacemen are expected to dock with ISS 11:33 p.m. on Tuesday November 15, and will join Expedition 29 Commander Mike Fossum of NASA and Flight Engineers Satoshi Furukawa of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and Russian cosmonaut Sergei Volkov. Fossum will hand over command of the ISS to the new crew after four days, officially starting Expedition 30.

Coverage of the docking will be shown on NASA Television beginning at 11 p.m. Tuesday. NASA TV coverage of the hatches opening and the welcoming ceremony will begin at 1:30 a.m. on Wednesday. A formal change of command ceremony is planned for November 20 and will also be aired on NASA TV during a video file November 21 at 8 a.m.

The three crew members currently stationed on the ISS are scheduled to return to Earth in their Soyuz TMA-02M spacecraft at 8:24 a.m. Kazakhstan time on November 22. NASA astronaut Don Pettit, Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko and European Space Agency astronaut Andre Kuipers are scheduled to launch to the station December 21, when they will join Expedition 30 as flight engineers.

The current launch was scheduled for liftoff September 22, but was delayed while Russian engineers and officials exhaustively investigated why the unmanned August launch of Progress failed and crashed back to Earth. The third stage of the Progress vessel was virtually identical to the one used in the manned version and Russia quickly made finding out why it failed its top priority.

Three of the six ISS crew had returned to Earth on September 16, on schedule, leaving the station with a skeleton crew for an extended period. Fossum and his crew aboard the ISS are scheduled to return to Earth on November 22, which, if the latest crew were unable to depart when they did, would have left the ISS unmanned for the first time in 11 years.

Russian space engineers, after extensive probing, determined that the Progress third stage failed due to contamination in a propellant feed line. With that figured out, Russian officials deemed it safe to resume launches of manned missions.

The crew shrugged off safety concerns before liftoff on Monday. “We don´t have any black thoughts. We have faith in our equipment,” Russian news agencies quoted Shkaplerov as saying before the launch.

“Except for the bad weather in Baikonur, everything went extremely well,” Vladimir Solovyov, head of launches for the Russian segment of the ISS, told reporters at Mission Control.

Veteran NASA astronaut Daniel Burbank is making his first voyage on board a Soyuz spacecraft from Russia´s Baikonur Cosmodrome. A former Coast Guard helicopter pilot and father of two grown children, Burbank holds a Master´s in aeronautical science. He flew twice aboard the space shuttle, in 2000 and 2006.

“Two visits to the space station, both of them on the order of a couple of days each, was just enough to convince me that I wanted to do this longer,” Burbank told CBS News earlier this year. “To be there for six months, to do the research and to basically adapt, truly adapt to spaceflight and become a creature of space...that is something I´m really looking forward to.”

“I think the hardest thing for us will be to quickly adapt and take the most advantage we can of the short couple of days we´ll have on board with Sergei and with Mike and Satoshi,” Burbank said. “But I think we made good progress before this, spending a lot of time talking with them, in some cases almost on a daily basis, and we've done a lot of the handover work with them ahead of time.”

“I still anticipate it´ll be a challenge for us, but we´ve got a big team on the ground ... and I think everything will be successful,” he added.

Once aboard the ISS, the total of six crew members will be busy working on dozens of experiments. They will eventually also be welcoming a new era of commercial re-supply services from the United States. Expedition 30 is expected to welcome the arrival of Dragon, a commercial re-supply ship being built by SpaceX. Dragon will perform a test flight and rendezvous with the ISS, soon followed by Cygnus -- scheduled for flight during Expedition 31.

In addition to their normal handover work and science operations, Shkaplerov, Ivanishin and Burbank will need to reconfigure the station for normal operations, resetting systems that were modified to improve autonomous operations “on the off chance that we weren´t able to launch this Soyuz on time,” said Michael Barratt, a NASA astronaut and station veteran.

“We wanted to be sure the station was ready to work unmanned, essentially, to be an autonomous vehicle for a while,” he told Reuters. “That took a lot to do, and they´ll have to undo some of that work. And then they´ll get down to the work of doing science and that´s, of course, what the station was built for.”

But overall, “the emphasis is squarely shifting towards utilization and research on board the space station as being the primary goal,” Burbank said. “Up until now, assembly has really been the major focus and with the recently completed last launch of the shuttle, all the major heavy lifting's been done and space station is at essentially the assembly complete phase. We do have some operational and assembly type activities that we plan on board space station, but again, research is the focus.”


Image Caption: Despite a snowstorm, the three man crew - comprised of NASA astronaut Dan Burbank and Russian cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin - blasted off aboard a Soyuz TMA-22 rocket at 11:14:03 p.m. Nov. 13 from Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan. Credit: NASA/Roscosmos


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