Sunday, April 03, 2011

Russian launch to mark 50th anniversary of human spaceflight

Russia and the world will begin celebrations Tuesday of the golden anniversary of humankind's first steps into space with the launch of two Russians and one American aboard a Soyuz bound for the International Space Station.

It was April 12, 1961, in which Russian Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin lifted-off from a then-secret launch site to become the first human ever to not only fly in space but to orbit the earth.

Russia in his honor has named the crew's Soyuz TMA21 spacecraft Gagarin in honor of the late-cosmonaut.

Two Cosmonauts, Soyuz commander Aleksander Samokutyaev and flight engineer Andrei Borisenko, and NASA astronaut and flight engineer Ron Garan are scheduled to lift-off aboard a Soyuz-FG rocket on April 4 at 6:18 p.m. EDT (4:18 a.m. April 5 local time), from the Baikonur Cosmosdrome in western Kazakhstan.

Lift-off will occur from the same launch pad which sent Gagarin into space fifty years earlier.

This launch will mark the twenty-fifth flight of the Soyuz FG, and the twenty-second flight to carry humans aboard.

At lift-off the Soyuz will use one RD-118 center engine and four small boosters to send the craft aloft from the desert of Baikonur.

The two stage, 162-foot grey rocket's liquid-fueled engine is assisted by the four RD-117 liquid-fueled engines on attached side boosters providing 1,143,378 pounds of thrust.

Two minutes after launch, the four boosters will separate from the core stage, and the center engine will continue it's burn for a little over two additional minutes.

As the rocket soars toward orbit, it will fly over the length of Kazakhstan toward southern China.

Forty-nine hours after launch, Samokutyaev will guide his craft to a slow docking to the space station as the trio begins a nearly six month stay aboard earth's orbiting outpost.

The Soyuz crew will spend nearly three hours shutting down systems aboard the Soyuz and preparing for hatch opening, as the station's crew prepares to open the hatch from their side.

The space station's current residents of three -- Expedition 27 commander Dmitry Kondratyev and flight engineers Paolo Nespoli of Italy and NASA astronaut Cady Coleman -- have been orbiting alone since the March 16 departure of a Soyuz TMA 01M with Russian's Alexander Kaleri and Oleg Skripochka and Expedition 26 commander and NASA astronaut Scott Kelly.

A Lt. Colonel in the Russian Air Force, Aleksander M. Samokutyaev will be making his first space flight.

Married and the father of one daughter, Samokutyaev attended military pilot school and later served as squadron leader at a helicopter training school in the Ukraine. In July 2005, he became a test cosmonaut and began training for his first flight.

Russian Andrei Borisenko will also be making hist first trip into space, and will celebrate his forty-seventh birthday ten days after docking to the orbiting lab.

The married father of two children is a non-military cosmonaut. After spending several years as a civilian in the Russian Navy, he went on to support the Russian space station MIR program and in 1999, served as a flight director from a seat inside Mission Control.

He oversaw MIR's de-orbit and destructive reentry over the Pacific Ocean in March 2001, and qualified as a test cosmonaut four years later on the very same day as Samokutyaev.

The only space flight veteran of the trio, United States Air Force Colonel Ronald J. Garan flew to the space station in June 2008 as a member of space shuttle Discovery's STS-124 flight.

The two week shuttle flight delivered the Japanese Kibo module and allowed Garan to perform three spacewalks totaling nearly 21 hours combined.

Married and the father of three sons, Garan holds three degrees including one in aerospace engineering.

An F-16 pilot who flew combat missions in Desert Storm in 1991, he enjoys teaching Sunday School at a church near his home in south Houston, Texas, and occasionally coaches boys football and baseball teams as time permits.

Last May, this aerospace reporter spoke with Col. Garan and asked if he would carry with him a special 4-inch patch on his space flight.

The patch features a bird named "Meco" poised above earth's moon, and represents the Twitter-based aerospace friendly members known as the Space Tweep Society.

Founded by former Kennedy Space Center technician for the space shuttle, Jennifer Scheer, the Space Tweep Society patch is also her creation as recognition for those who enjoy to Tweet, blog or photograph activities surrounding aviation and space.

Ron messaged this journalist two weeks ago saying, " I hope to take a picture of the (MECO) patch with Earth in the background".

During the crews stay aboard station, they will bear witness to the final two space shuttle flights as Endeavour arrives on April 21 to install the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer, and Atlantis visits in early-July on a resupply flight.

Garan and his Russian crew mates will head home sometime in mid-September, just weeks shy of Ron's own fiftieth birthday celebration.

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