Wednesday, December 21, 2011

New Crew Blazes Way Toward Space Station

Two astronauts and a cosmonaut are speeding toward the International Space Station today after launching from frigid Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Temperatures were just above zero degrees Fahreinheit when Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, U.S. astronaut Don Pettit and Andre Kuipers of the European Space Agency blasted off from the sane pad where Yuri Gagain embarked on the first human space flight 50 years ago. Sputnik, the world's first man-made satellite, also lifted off from the same pad.

Riding atop a Soyuz rocket and cramped into a spacecraft with the same name, the three explorers reached an initial orbit about nine minutes after an 8:16 a.m. EST launch. The spacecraft's power-producing solar wings unfurled along with a radio communications antenna as the crew completed the first leg of a two-day journey to the station.

The three will join U.S. astronaut Dan Burbank and two Russian cosmonauts -- Anatoly Ivanishin and Anton Shkaplerov -- aboard the outpost. Docking is scheduled for 10:22 a.m. Friday. You can watch live coverage of the docking here in The Flame Trench beginning at 9:45 a.m. EST Friday.

ABOUT THE IMAGE: Click to enlarge the Associated Press photo of a new International Space Station crew boarding a Soyuz spacecraft prior to launch today. From top to bottom are Andre Kuipers of the European Space Agency, U.S. astronaut Don Pettit and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko.

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