A Russian rocket carrying a trio of astronauts is on its way to the International Space Station. NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg, European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano and Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin successfully launched aboard the Russian Soyuz TMA-09M spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan toward the orbiting outpost. The three newest space station crewmembers arrived just six hours after launch, in the second ever one-day manned trip to the International Space Station.
"Soyuz blazing into the night sky over Kazakhstan," NASA spokesman Kelly Humphries said upon launch. Yurchikhin, the commander of the Soyuz, chose a toy dog as the crew's mascot. The cosmonaut got the stuffed animal as a gift 30 years ago, and he brought it with him to space in 2010 as well. The Soyuz commander also brought toys given to him by his daughters into the capsule.
It usually takes about two days for a manned Soyuz spacecraft to reach the International Space Station, but this time, the astronauts made only four orbits of the Earth before docking. Although many unmanned cargo ships do these kinds of expedited docking procedures regularly, only one other Soyuz crew has flown to the space station using this method. NASA's Chris Cassidy and Russian cosmonauts Pavel Vinogradov and Alexander Misurkin, the three astronauts currently living and working on the space station, were the first crew to do the one-day launch and docking when they blasted off to the station in March.
These express trips to the space laboratory give the astronauts more time to adjust to life in orbit on the space station instead of inside a cramped capsule. Mission managers have said that it saves money as well: Personnel needed in Mission Control when the Soyuz is flying can go home earlier when the trips are shorter. Nyberg, Yurchikhin and Parmitano represent a mixed international crew of first time and veteran spaceflyers. Yurchikhin has spent more than a year in orbit already, logging 371 days in space. Nyberg flew to space onboard the space shuttle Discovery in 2008, but this marks her first time living on the more complete space station.
"When we went up before, we brought up the Japanese laboratory and our main job was helping to build the International Space Station. This time we won't be building anymore," Nyberg said. "We're maintaining it and primarily doing scientific research." This will be Parmitano's first flight to the International Space Station. "Of course, looking out cupola, I just know it will be an incredible experience, it will create memories that will be with me forever," Parmitano said. "Certainly the thought of doing extravehicular activity and being outside is also something that really excites me, but in general, I'm really just looking forward to the full experience from launch to reentry."
The astronauts have a busy mission ahead of them once they join Cassidy, Vinogradov and Misurkin to complete the Expedition 36 crew. During the six months that Nyberg, Parmitano and Yurchikhin live onboard the station, the crew will perform five spacewalks as well as receive a handful of unmanned cargo ships at the station. Yurchikhin and Misurkin will conduct three Russian spacewalks focused on maintenance, while Cassidy and Parmitano will venture outside of the space station twice in July.