A Russian cosmonaut and two American astronauts are scheduled to rocket toward the International Space Station today after launch from the same pad where the legendary Yuri Gagarin blasted off in 1961 on mankind's first human spaceflight.
Fyodor Yurchikhin, Shannon Walker and Douglas Wheelock will strap into the Soyuz spacecraft atop a three-stage Soyuz rocket and then set sail from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 5:35 p.m. You can watch live NASA TV coverage of the launch right here in The Flame Trench beginning at 4:45 p.m. Simply click the NASA TV box on the right side of the page to launch our NASA TV viewer and live coverage.
Yurchikhin, 51, first launched into space aboard Atlantis on the STS-112 mission in October 2002 and he also served as commander of the 15th expedition to the International Space Station.
Walker, 45, is launching on her first spaceflight. Married to U.S. astronaut Andy Thomas, Walker is the first U.S. astronaut born and raised in Houston, Texas, the home of NASA's Johnson Space Center, Mission Control and the Astronaut Corps.
Wheelock, 50, will be making his second spaceflight. He flew aboard Discovery on the STS-120 mission in October 2007. He and his crewmates delivered the U.S. harmony module to the station, moved a giant solar wing to the far port side of the outpost's central truss and performed spacewalking surgery on a torn solar wing blanket.
The Soyuz rocket is slated to make a nine-minute flight into orbit before its solar wings and communication antennas are deployed for a two-day trip to the station. Docking is scheduled for 6:25 p.m. Thursday and you can watch live coverage here in The Flame Trench beginning at 6 p.m.
We'll also provide live coverage of the hatch opening between the Soyuz and the station, and a subsequent welcome ceremony, starting at 10 p.m. Thursday. The hatch opening is expected to take place between 10 p.m. and 10:20 p.m. and the welcome ceremony is slated to begin about 10:50 p.m.