Soyuz TMA-08M launches to International Space Station, arrives in record time

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Friday, March 29, 2013

Soyuz TMA-08M, a Russian spacecraft with a crew of three aboard, launched from Kazakhstan to the International Space Station (ISS) Thursday at 20:43 UTC (2:43 AM Friday, local time) and docked with the orbital outpost at 2:28 UTC on Friday after following a flight plan enabling a docking in record time.

Christopher Cassidy, Pavel Vinogradov, and Aleksandr Misurkin (pictured left-to-right) launched Thursday to the ISS on a record-breaking flight, arriving just under six hours after liftoff.
Image: NASA/Robert Markowitz.

Soyuz TMA-08M is the first manned Soyuz spaceflight to follow a new flight plan which allowed the spacecraft to dock with the ISS in a record-breaking time of approximately six hours, or four orbits, rather than the usual two days. This new flight plan, described as "a fast track to the International Space Station" by NASA spokesman Josh Byerly, had been tested successfully prior to Thursday's launch by three unmanned Progress cargo ships delivering supplies to the station.

The three-member crew of the mission consists of two Russian cosmonauts, Commander Pavel Vinogradov and Flight Engineer Aleksandr Misurkin, and one U.S. astronaut, Flight Engineer Christopher Cassidy. Soyuz TMA-08M is the third spaceflight for Vinogradov and the second for Cassidy. Aleksandr Misurkin is making his maiden trip into space aboard the mission.

The Soyuz spacecraft docked with the ISS at 2:28 UTC on Friday, about four minutes ahead of schedule and just short of six hours after liftoff. After docking with the station, the hatches separating the Soyuz and the ISS were opened at 4:35 UTC, after which the new crewmembers were welcomed aboard by the three-man crew currently aboard the outpost, Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, and U.S. astronaut Thomas Marshburn.

The combined six-person Expedition 35 space station crew is slated to perform scientific research and prepare for upcoming departures and arrivals of other spacecraft. The next of these is scheduled for April 15 when Progress M-17M is to undock from the station. The trio already aboard the ISS—consisting of Romanenko, Hadfield, and Marshburn—are to depart and return to Earth aboard Soyuz TMA-07M on May 14, leaving the Soyuz TMA-08M crew behind. Soyuz TMA-09M, also using the new flight plan, is scheduled to arrive at the ISS with three new crewmembers two weeks later on May 28.

Soyuz TMA-08M—with Vinogradov, Misurkin, and Cassidy aboard—is scheduled to return to Earth on September 11, after approximately six months in space.