CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- An American, Canadian and Russian departed the bitterly cold desert of western Kazakhstan today riding atop Russia's Soyuz rocket en route to the International Space Station for the holidays.
NASA astronaut Tom Marshburn, Canadian Space Agency's Chris Hadfield and Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko lifted-off into the sunset skies over the Baikonur Cosmodrome at 7:12 a.m. EST (6:12 p.m. local time) on Wednesday, beginning a two day voyage to the orbiting outpost.
The new crew will spend five months in space, beginning with the passage of the Christmas season.
"We planned for it a long time ago," Marshburn said at a recent news conference about his thoughts on Christmas morning. "I have a ten year old daughter, and that'll be tough thinking about her waking up in the morning and enjoying things. It'll be a bit tough for me, but I think the price is certainly well worth it to be up here."
For Hadfield, whose children live in different parts of the world, he was fortunate to met up with his wife and children near the bitterly cold launch site a few days before his flight.
"We (got) together for Christmas in Kazakhstan," the musician-astronaut said with a gleeful smile. "Makes a nice card, 'Christmas in Kazakhstan'."
As the countdown reached zero, so did the outside temperature (°F), and fuel
and support arms quickly retracted away from the 151-foot tall rocket. The Soyuz
FG's four liquid fueled boosters and core main engine ignited on time
launching the international crew of three upward into the night sky.
At the same time, the crew's port-of-call soared high over the eastern Atlantic Ocean near Africa's coastline.
Two minutes into the rocket's climb
to orbit, the boosters emptied their fuel and were jettisoned. Seven
minutes later, the crew arrived in low earth orbit and began deploying the craft's twin solar arrays.
After completing 34 orbits of the
earth, the Soyuz TMA-07M will make a slow approach to the station and dock
to the Russian Rassvet module on Friday. Docking time is planned for 9:10 a.m.
Two hours following docking, the newly arriving crew will then float into the orbiting lab to join three veteran crew members.
Station commander and NASA astronaut Kevin Ford and cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy and Evgeny Tarelkin have been living aboard the outpost since October 25.
Hadfield, a veteran of two space shuttle flights to two different space
stations, will become the first Canadian to command the International
Space Station beginning in March.
The 53-year-old has included special foods and mementos from his native Canada to enjoy during his five-month voyage 260 miles above earth.
Maple syrup, jerky and chocolate traveled into space tucked in the astronaut's personal bag, Hadfield revealed last week.
Hadfield, the only Canadian to walk in space, will also mark a first in February with the first song to premiere in space, I.S.S. (Is Somebody Singing), a duet with musician Ed Robertson.
NASA's Marshburn will also be making his second trip to the station having spent two weeks aboard in 2009.
Born in Statesville, North Carolina, his family moved to Atlanta a few years later graduating from Henderson High School in 1978.
Dr. Marshburn, M.D. became an astronaut in 2006, and was a member of shuttle Endeavour's crew which delivered the Japanese module to the space station. He also performed three spacewalks to assist in the new module's installation.
And, although there are no spacewalks planned during his stay, Marshburn said he "would love to" perform one if necessary.
Cosmonaut Romanenko was serving as flight engineer during Marshburn's brief stay in summer of 2009. A major in the Russian Air Force, Romanenko logged 188 days in space as part of the expedition 20 and 21 crews that year.
The space trio will live and work aboard the space station until May 2013.
(Charles Atkeison reports on aerospace, science and technology. Follow his updates via Twitter @spaceflight360.)