New resident crew rockets toward the space station
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS "SPACE PLACE" & USED WITH PERMISSION
Posted: March 29, 2006
Under a clear blue sky, the Soyuz roared to life on time at 9:30 p.m. EST (8:30 a.m. March 30 in Kazakhstan) and quickly climbed away atop a tongue of brilliant flame and a billowing cloud of exhaust. Vaulting away from the same pad Yuri Gagarin used 45 years ago, this was the 100th manned orbital launch from the sprawling Baikonur complex and the 12th Russian flight carrying crew members to the international space station.
Live television shots from inside the cramped cabin showed commander Pavel Vinogradov, NASA flight engineer Jeff Williams and Brazilian astronaut Marcos Pontes as they monitored cockpit instruments during the ride up hill. Pontes smiled and pointed at the Brazilian flag on his spacesuit while Williams and Vinogradov followed their ascent checklist procedures.
"It was a great launch," said NASA associate administrator Rex Geveden. "This is a very lean operation but it's done very well. Launch was smooth, uneventful, the kind we like. It was great."
Said Kirk Shireman, NASA's deputy station program manager, "It was really exciting. It was a beautiful launch and a beautiful day here in Baikonur. It's a really big event for the space station."
ISS-12 commander Bill McArthur and flight engineer Valery Tokarev will spend a week showing the new crew the ins and outs of space station operation before returning to Earth with Pontes aboard the Soyuz TMA-7 spacecraft that carried them into orbit Oct. 1, 2005. Landing in Kazakhstan is expected on April 8 around 7:46 p.m. EDT.
"The hand off is always a busy time," said Shireman. "It will take a little time for BIll McArthur and Valery Tokarev to explain to them, show them exactly where everything is, how to live aboard the space station. ... Hopefully, an easy adaptation for Jeff and Pavel."
Vinogradov and Williams will welcome a third crew member, European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Reiter, when the shuttle Discovery's docks with the space station this summer. Discovery's launch currently is targeted for July 1, assuming a variety of technical issues can be resolved.
The space station has been staffed by rotating two-man U.S.-Russian crews since 2003 when NASA's shuttle fleet was grounded in the wake of the Columbia disaster. Without regular shuttle visits, assembly was put on hold and the crew size reduced from three to two, all the smaller Russian Soyuz and unmanned Progress cargo ships could accommodate.
But thanks to a flawless launch record, the Russians have successfully kept the station operational while NASA concentrated on fixing the space shuttle.
NASA launched the shuttle Discovery to the space station last July, but on-going problems with insulation on the shuttle's external tank have prevented additional flights.
NASA hopes to resume regular assembly and resupply missions with Discovery's upcoming flight and with Mir-veteran Reiter on board, the station will have a three-man crew once again to carry out a full slate of experiments and assembly tasks. The ISS-13 mission duration will be 178 days.
"I see this as almost a new beginning for the space station," Shireman said. It "sets the table for us to continue construction. It's a really big event and we're looking forward to continuing the build of the international space station."
Vinogradov spent 198 days in space aboard the old Russian Mir space station in 1997 and 1998 while Williams is a veteran of a shuttle flight in May 2000. Pontes is a space rookie, flying to the station under a commercial contract between the Russian and Brazilian space agencies.