Wednesday, September 21, 2011

ISS-bound astronauts confident in Russian launch system

Three people training to fly to the International Space Station later this year say they are confident in the Russian Soyuz rocket that will launch them toward the outpost, Todd Halvorson reports in this morning's FLORIDA TODAY.

 Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, U.S. astronaut Don Pettit and European astronaut Andre Kuipers have no qualms about riding a rocket similar to one that suffered a launch failure on Aug. 24.

 "In terms of anxiety getting on a rocket, I have more anxiety sitting here in front of all these news cameras than I do climbing up on top of a rocket," Pettit said in a news conference Tuesday. Kononenko, Pettit and Kuipers are scheduled to launch Dec. 26 from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, riding atop a Soyuz FG rocket.

The launch vehicle has a third-stage engine similar to the one on the Soyuz U rocket that failed Aug. 24. A robotic Progress cargo ship and 6,000 pounds of supplies were lost. Kuipers noted that the Soyuz FG rocket that ferries crews to the station is equipped with a launch abort system. Small tractor rockets would pull the Soyuz crew capsule off the top of the rocket in an emergency. Then parachutes would deploy, floating the crew capsule to a touchdown back on Earth.

Kononenko, Pettit and Kuipers are slated to arrive at the station two days after launch, bringing the size of the resident crew back up to size. Three crewmembers returned to Earth last week, leaving just three onboard the outpost. U.S. astronaut Mike Fossum, Russian cosmonaut Sergei Volkov and Satoshi Furukawa of JapanAerospace Exploration Agency are scheduled to return to Earth on Nov. 22.

 Six days earlier, on Nov. 16, U.S. astronaut Dan Burbank and two Russian cosmonauts -- Anatoly Ivanishin and Anton Shkaplerov -- will arrive at the station. A Russian commission blamed the Aug. 24 Soyuz U failure on a clogged propellant line. The Russian space program has suffered four Soyuz rocket failures since last December.

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