Next space station crew rockets into orbit on Soyuz
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS "SPACE PLACE" & USED WITH PERMISSION
Posted: April 18, 2004
A Soyuz rocket carrying the international space station's next crew roared to life and rocketed away from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan late Sunday, kicking off the ninth expedition to the orbital outpost.
Despite a surprise weekend snow storm, the sky cleared off, the Soyuz climbed away on time and slipped into orbit eight minutes and 40 seconds later. If all goes well, the Soyuz TMA-4 spacecraft will dock with the space station around 1 a.m. EDT Wednesday after a two-day orbital chase.
"Congratulations on completion of the first stage of your flight," a ground controller radioed seconds after the Soyuz reached orbit. Live television views during the climb to space showed all three crew members in good spirits, smiling and waving at cameras, as they followed their checklists.
"It took me a long time to breathe!" said Edward Fincke, the astronaut's father. "To see your kid sitting on a ball of fire going to the heavens, it's simply more than you can imagine, more than you can ask for. It's so great that NASA and the Russian agency let us be here today. Talk about a graduation day!"
Padalka, 45, and Fincke, a 37-year-old Air Force lieutenant colonel, plan to remain aboard the outpost for six months as the lab's ninth full-time crew. Kuipers is scheduled to return to Earth on April 30 with the outgoing Expedition 8 crew, commander Michael Foale and flight engineer Alexander Kaleri.
"I think it's a great honor to begin my spaceflight career, my first launch, on the Soyuz vehicle," Fincke, a space rookie and the first NASA astronaut to make his initial flight on a Russian rocket, said during a news conference. "I didn't know that I was going to have such an opportunity, but I'm very happy that I do. I think everything's going to be great, everything's going to be in order, because I have a great commander and a great flight engineer. This is like a dream for me and I think I got very, very lucky."
Padalka and Fincke make up the third two-man crew to staff the station since the Columbia disaster last year. With the shuttle fleet grounded, NASA has no way to deliver the fresh water and other supplies necessary to support the normal complement of three crew members. But over the past year, U.S. and Russian managers and engineers have implemented procedures to keep the station going with just two crew members, along with supplies delivered by Russian Soyuz and Progress spacecraft.
"It's very symbolic how well, what we can do as people all over the planet, when we work together," Fincke said. "We are partners - the European Space Agency, NASA, Russia and Japan. And now our Russian partners are picking up the ball and carrying the whole program on themselves. And we are very greatful for that. The Soyuz is a wonderful rocket, a very strong rocket. We have a very good ship and a good crew. We'll have a great mission."
Here is a timeline of upcoming events (in EDT throughout):
"Once we reach the main engine cutoff and that we are floating freely in space, we'll be taking off our spacesuits and getting ready for two days of communal living, for three people in a small spacecraft to get ready to dock with the international space station. Once we dock with the international space station, we will meet our friends ... the Expedition 8 crew. They will give us time to show us around, to show us the nuances of day-to-day life, and then they'll quickly go home and return along with Andre, back to planet Earth. And I know that Mike [Foale] and Sasha [Kaleri]'s families miss them very much.
"Then, Gennady and I are by ourselves," Fincke said. "We have a lot of things to accomplish and we'll work hard to see that the whole mission is done. We won't have anybody to come visit us until the next crew, the Expedition 10 crew, comes up. And on some hand it might seem that we'll be very lonely, but on the other hand, we'll have e-mail, we'll have phones, we'll be able to keep in touch with our families. And that's really important."
Two Progress supply ships will dock with the space station during the Expedition 9 mission and Padalka and Fincke plan to carry out two spacewalks. A major objective is to mount cameras, communications equipment and navigation systems on the hull that will be needed next year by the European Space Agency's unmanned Automated Transfer Vehicle, a new supply ship.
"The biggest goal for us as a crew is to keep the space station in operational condition and maintain the human presence," Padalka, a Mir veteran, told a NASA interviewer. He said a recent air leak in the outpost "showed us that if we had not had crew on board, we could have lost the space station.
"But our long-duration activities basically cover some spheres: We need to keep ability to perform preventive maintenance, to avoid serious situations with this space systems operation, and we will perform two spacewalks. Despite the space shuttle being grounded ... we have vast science programs on behalf of the Russian side, the American side, and the European Space Agency."
Critics of the space station, of course, would not use the word "vast" to describe the on-board science, limited by a reduced crew and a lack of shuttle flights to deliver experiment hardware. But for Fincke, who holds master's degrees in planetary geology and aeronautics and astronautics, there's more than enough science to keep him occupied.
"There is a lot of science happening, with as small of a cargo mass that we can send up, and it's amazing," Fincke said. "We'll be doing a lot of life sciences, to see how humans react and live in space and the effects of long-term exposure to space on [humans], and some proposed countermeasures.
"We're looking into materials science and looking into how materials react and change in space. There are fundamental fluid mechanics problems that we're solving with ingenious contraptions that are easy to operate and give real-time data back to the scientists on the ground. It's very impressive, the complement that we're being able to put together, given the short amount of time and the small amount of cargo that we actually have. "
Here are the official priorities of the Expedition 9 mission:
"In life, I don't think we always get a chance for our dreams to come true," Fincke said. "But I can tell you, right here and right now, that I'm living my dream. I've always dreamed of being an astronaut, and now I'm getting a chance. And not only that, but I've always really had an affinity for the Russian space program and was always very much interested. It's such an honor to get a chance to fly aboard the Russian Soyuz spacecraft.
"During training I always felt that I was doing well with the Soyuz, and the Soyuz and I got along really well. I understood which buttons to push at the right time. You're just in a special connection. Now that we're getting an actual chance to fly in it it's a dream come true."
But the legacy of the Columbia disaster is never far from mind. And for Padalka, it's a new emphasis on safety.
"It was a great sadness," Padalka said. "It was an incredible crew, and without exaggeration I would [say] that it was a vanguard for all mankind. And, in my opinion, it wasn't only an American crew, it was an international crew because this crew represented by many, many nations: American, Indian, African-American, Israel. And, this catastrophe showed that it's very hard for only one country to explore space, and we need to join our efforts; only in this case we can surmount all difficulties, overcome all obstacles, and only in this case we can have success in space.
"The Columbia Accident Investigation Board issued a lot of requirements for the remaining space shuttles, before space shuttles resume flights again. From my perspective, there are three main ones: No. 1, safety; No. 2, safety; and No. 3, safety. You understand me? It's very important for us. No space research can justify victims, and according to these safety requirements we are committed to taking into account all safety circumstances. ... It seems to me we need to balance between the benefit from the space research and risk. And we need to weigh the balance between risk and space research."
Fincke said station research, along with the experience gained living aboard the lab complex, ultimately will help pave the way for flights back to the moon and, ultimately, on to Mars.
"Going back to the moon, going off to Mars, how exciting! And the international space station is a perfect stepping-stone for us to perfect the technology, to perfect the operational tempo, operational parameters, that we need ... in order to make those long-duration missions successful."
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