Sunday, November 23, 2014

International crew lifts-off on six month space voyage

An American, Russian and Italian lifted off atop a 400-foot golden flame into the night sky over Kazakhstan on Monday to begin a six month voyage of living and working aboard the International Space Station.

The new station crew will perform a series of thruster burns today in order to catch up with their port-of-call within six hours after launch during a quick rendezvous and docking flight.

Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, NASA's Terry W. Virts and Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti lifted off at 3:01:14 a.m. local time (4:01 p.m. EST, Sunday) riding high atop a Soyuz FG rocket on a nearly six hour trip to catch up with and dock to the orbiting complex.

The space trio arrived at the base of their rocket as a light snow began to fall at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, two and one-half hours before launch. They climbed a small ladder turned and posed for photographers and well wishers gathered to send them off.

As the countdown reached zero, the Soyuz engines ignited at the precise moment in which the space station soared 530 miles above and east of the launch pad. As the 151-foot tall rocket leaped skyward in a massive jolt, it's crew were all smiles as they began to slice through a few cloud layers over the launch site.

Two minutes into Soyuz climb to orbit, its four boosters had expended its fuel and separated while the core main engine continued to burn. Seven minutes later, the crew had arrived in low earth orbit and began deploying the spacecraft's twin solar arrays and their KURS tracking antenna.

Minutes later, the crew set to work to prepare their space taxi for rendezvous and fly around of the station prior to docking to Russia's Rassvet module at 9:53 p.m. EST. Ninety minutes later, hatches between the two spacecraft will open allowing Shkaplerov, Virts and Cristoforetti to float into their new home 260 miles above the planet.

The new crew of three will join the space station's current crew of NASA astronaut Barry Wilmore and Russian cosmonauts Alexander Samokutyaev and Elena Serova. Wilmore currently serves as the station's commander.

Flight engineer Virts is no stranger to life aboard the space station. In 2010, the NASA astronaut served as pilot aboard space shuttle Endeavour spending ten days docked to the orbital outpost. His crew delivered two key station elements, the crew-popular Cupola and the Italian-built Tranquility module.

The Italian-born Cristoforetti is making her first trip into space. An astronaut with the European Space Agency, Cristoforetti is a captain and fighter pilot in the Italian Air Force. During a two-year academic stay in the United States in 1996, Cristoforetti attended SpaceCamp in Huntsville.

Eight hours prior to launch, Cristoforetti noted, "Just had what was probably my longest shower ever. Good Russian wisdom to leave plenty of time for it on the schedule!"

"I have prepared all my life for this space mission," Cristoforetti, Italy's first female astronaut said. "Everything I have done on this journey of life and personal growth will help me be a good crew member aboard the International Space Station."

Cristoforetti will soon serve as barista as she becomes the first astronaut to brew a fresh cup of espresso coffee in space in true Italian style. Using a small metal glove box, steamed water will allow her to mix up clear pouch of espresso as she begins a new day of science.

Cosmonaut Shkaplerov spent 165 days in space in 2012 as he lived and worked aboard the space station, including a six hour spacewalk outside the complex.

Sunday's lift-off occurred just three days following the sixteenth anniversary of the station's first component launch, Russia's Zarya core module.

On popular social media sites, this crew will be sharing their moments in space. Follow ,  and via Twitter and @Space_Station on Instgram for exclusive coverage of their flight.

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