A Soyuz rocket carrying a Russian commander, a NASA co-pilot and a United Arab Emirates guest cosmonaut blasted off from Kazakhstan Wednesday, chased down the International Space Station and glided in for a picture-perfect docking, kicking off an unprecedented end-of-year schedule that includes up to a dozen spacewalks.
A Soyuz rocket with a three-person crew heading for the International Space Station lifted off at 1357 GMT (9:57 a.m. EDT) Wednesday in the final launch currently scheduled from Gagarin’s Start, a historic site at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan from where Yuri Gagarin departed on the first human spaceflight in 1961. Beginning next year, Soyuz crews will blast off from a different pad at Baikonur.
Soyuz commander Alexei Ovchinin, flight engineer Oleg Skripochka and outgoing space station skipper Jeff Williams returned to Earth on Tuesday with a parachute-assisted touchdown in Kazakhstan. Their Soyuz TMA-20M capsule undocked from the station at 2151 GMT (5:51 p.m. EDT) and landed at 0113 GMT (9:13 p.m. EDT).
Less than a week after winding up a successful spacewalk, outgoing space station commander Jeff Williams, America’s most experienced astronaut, will join two Russian cosmonauts for a fiery descent to Earth Tuesday evening to close out a 172-day mission covering 2,752 orbits and 72.8 million miles since launch last March.