CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- A NASA astronaut destined to become the U.S. record holder for time spent in space and two cosmonauts lifted off from Kazakhstan on Saturday and successfully arrived at their new home aboard the International Space Station.
American Jeff Williams and Russians Oleg Skripochka and Alexey Ovchinin rode the golden flame of a Soyuz rocket into the black skies above the Baikonur Cosmodrome to begin a nearly six hour voyage on the ocean of space to the orbiting laboratory. Launch occurred on time at 5:26:38 p.m. EDT, on Friday (3:26 a.m. local on March 19) as the space station soared 252 miles above Kazakhstan.
As the rocket climbed toward orbit, its spent core booster separated to allow the second stage to carry the crew higher. "Everything's fine on board. We're feeling fine," the crew radioed mission control in Moscow midway through the dynamic launch.
Ten minutes after lift-off the Soyuz was alone in its planned orbit, its solar arrays and antenna deployed. The crew then began it's four orbit trip to the station.
After a series of course correction burns to chase down the football field-size complex, the Russian Soyuz TMA-20M docked automatically to the outpost without issue at 11:09:55 p.m. The last Soyuz-crew docking attempt three months ago was hampered by a failed docking radar which forced the craft's pilot to switch to manual and dock ten minutes late.
That space crew of American Tim Kopra, Briton Tim Peake and Russian Yuri Malenchenko will join the newly arrived crew. Together, the crew of six will prepare for a busy next few weeks of science experiments, and the arrival of two resupply crafts.
This mission will mark a record third long duration flight by an astronaut as Williams prepares to set another long duration record by an American. "Williams will become the new American record holder for cumulative days
in space at 534 surpassing commander Scott Kelly, who
wrapped up his one-year mission on March 1," NASA spokesperson Mark Garcia said on Friday. Garcia added that Williams will become the new space station commander on June 4.
"I feel very prepared to go I am very confident my crew mates are prepared and ready to go and we're looking for to a great mission," Williams said prior to launch. "I'm looking forward to some of the experiments that are studies of the human body and to understand the effects of the environment on the human body so we can develop counter measures to support future exploration."
As commander, Williams will support a few spacewalks to ready the complex for future spacecraft arriving from the United States. "I'm looking forward to a couple of planned spacewalks that we have later in the summer. One to integrate a docking adapter to the space station in preparation for the future commercial crew vehicles that are planned to fly in the next few years to rotate crews from American soil," Williams added from near his launch site.
Williams, Skripochka and Ovchinin will return back to Earth aboard the same Soyuz craft in early September. The landing will be in traditional manner with a thud upon the desert steep of central Kazakhstan.