Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Fresh Station Crew Aims For Midnight Docking

A spacecraft with an American astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts aboard is closing in on the International Space Station today and will dock at the outpost early Wednesday.

U.S. station commander Mike Fossum and two crewmates likely will be watching from an outpost observation deck as Dan Burbank, Anatoly Ivanishin and Anton Shkaplerov make a final approach to the complex in their Russian Soyuz spacecraft. The Soyuz and the station are slated to link up at 12:37 a.m. EST Wednesday. Live coverage will begin here in The Flame Trench at midnight tonight.

A hatch-opening and welcome ceremony will be broadcast here at 2:55 a.m. Live coverage of that event will begin at 2:30 a.m. Click the NASA TV box on the right to launch our NASA TV viewer and live coverage.

Those arriving comprise the final three members of the 29th expedition to the International Space Station. Fossum, Russian cosmonaut Sergei Volkov and Satoshi Furukawa of Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency round out the crew.

A planned Sept. 21 launch for Burbank and his crewmates was delayed almost three months by an investigation into the Aug. 24 failure of a Soyuz U rocket. The Soyuz FG rocket used to launch crews is equipped with the same RD-0110 third-stage engine blamed for the failure. Fleetwide engine inspections and the successful Oct. 30 launch of a Soyuz U rocket cleared the way for the 11:14 p.m. EST launch Sunday of Burbank and his crewmates at Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Burbank is the first American astronaut to hitch a ride on a Russian Soyuz rocket since July's retirement of the U.S. shuttle fleet.

Fossum, Volkov and Furukawa are scheduled to depart the station next Monday.

A crew that includes NASA astronaut Don Pettit will arrive at the station on Dec. 23, marking the beginning of the 30th expedition at the outpost. The station has been continuously staffed since the Expedition One crew opened the outpost for business on Nov. 2, 2000.

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