Expedition 31 Astronauts Headed For The International Space Station
May 15, 2012

Expedition 31 Astronauts Headed For The International Space Station

[ Watch the Launch Video ]

A NASA astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts lifted off for the International Space Station aboard the Soyuz TMA-04M spacecraft to join up with their three Expedition 31 crew mates already on the orbiting space lab.

The Soyuz rocket lifted off on May 15 at 9:01 a.m. local time (10:01 p.m. CDT May 14) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan carrying NASA Flight Engineer Joseph Acaba, Russian Soyuz Commander Gennady Padalka and Flight Engineer Sergei Revin.

The launch went according to plan, and nine minutes later the crew was safely in orbit. The Soyuz spacecraft is scheduled to dock with the ISS at 12:38 a.m. EDT on Thursday, which will be Acaba´s 45th birthday.

Once they dock, Acaba, Padalka and Revin will join Expedition 31 Commander Oleg Kononenko, NASA Flight Engineer Don Pettit and ESA Flight Engineer Andre Kuipers, who have already been aboard the space station since December 23, 2011. The six astronauts will be together for about 7 weeks, after which time, Kononenko, Pettit and Kuipers will return to Earth -- landing scheduled for July 1.

The docking event will be streamed live on NASA TV beginning at 11 p.m. on Wednesday May 16. The hatch opening and welcoming ceremonies will occur about three hours later, on Thursday May 17.

This is Acaba´s second run in space. A teacher of freshman science at Melbourne High, Acaba flew a station assembly mission aboard the shuttle Discovery in March 2009, completing two spacewalks.

This is the fourth spaceflight for Padalka, and his third time aboard the ISS. He was previously station commander for Expedition 9 in 2004 and Expedition 19/20 in 2009.

This is Revin´s first time in space.

A camera onboard the Soyuz craft showed Acaba holding a checklist, waving and giving a thumbs up during liftoff.

“We feel great. No issues,” one of the crew members said, according to Russian translators.

A fourth crew member -- Smokey the Bear -- was also onboard the Soyuz spacecraft. The small plush toy was a gift to Acaba from a friend and served as a Soyuz “talisman.” Prior to the flight, Acaba explained he proposed flying Smokey the Bear in an effort to raise awareness of human-caused wildfires --  Smokey the Bear being the US symbol for wildfire prevention.