Tuesday, June 15, 2010

New Soyuz Mission Launches June 15


Three astronauts are set for launch today to the International Space Station (ISS). Three crew, which will complete Expedition 24 aboard the orbital facility, will take off at 5:35 pm EDT (2135 GMT), from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, in Kazakhstan. They will fly to orbit aboard the Soyuz TMA-19 spacecraft, which is operated by the Russian Federal Space Agency (RosCosmos). The three fliers come from both NASA and RosCosmos, and they are bound to bring the total number of inhabitants on the ISS back to six, Space reports.

Due to time line differences, the spacecraft will actually be taking off on June 16, at 1:35 local time. The crew will be spending the next two days in Earth's orbit, on a course that will catch up with the ISS in about 48 hours. Veteran Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin will be joined in this mission by NASA astronauts Douglas Wheelock and Shannon Walker. The latter flies on the 47th anniversary of the first launch of a woman into space. In 1963, cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova took to orbit aboard a Vostok 3KA spacecraft, during the Vostok 6 mission. She is now retired.

“It's an honor to launch on her date, as well,” Walker said before the launch. Looking ahead, the schedule Mission Controls in Russia and the United States set up for Expedition 24 is very complex. The crew needs to perform a series of spacewalks to take care of and maintain the $100 billion station. Additionally, they have to host the final two shuttle missions, flown aboard Discovery and Endeavor, in September and November, respectively. During their six-month stay, several automated cargo ships will also have to be attached to the ISS, unloaded, reloaded with waste materials, and then undocked.

Speaking in a pre-flight interview about the challenges ahead for NASA, Wheelock said that “It's a big change in our program […] but change is not always bad. It's actually bittersweet to see the shuttle go but it's really an exciting time as well. We're also going to be the first increment to really go to full utilization of the space station as an orbiting laboratory.” This month will be very full for the station crew. In addition to getting used to each other, astronauts will also have to take care of an incoming Progress resupply capsule, which is due to launch at the end of June.