Thu, Sep 14, 2017 - Page 6 News List

Astronauts reach ISS for five-month mission

AFP, BAIKONUR, Kazakhstan

The Soyuz MS-06 spacecraft carrying US astronauts Joseph Acaba and Mark Vande Hei and Russian cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin to the International Space Station blasts off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan yesterday.

Photo: AFP

Two US astronauts and a Russian cosmonaut yesterday docked at the International Space Station (ISS) for a five-month mission following a nighttime launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Russia’s Roscosmos State Corporation for Space Activities said that the Soyuz MS-06 spacecraft “successfully docked” at the International Space Station at 2:55am in a statement on its Web site.

The Soyuz rocket carrying Alexander Misurkin of Roscosmos, NASA first-time flyer Mark Vande Hei and his veteran colleague Joseph Acaba launched as scheduled.

The trio will now join Paolo Nespoli of Italy, Sergey Riazanski of Russia and Randy Bresnik of the US aboard the orbital lab.

The launch marked the first time two US astronauts have blasted off together on a mission to the International Space Station from Russia’s Baikonur since June 2010.

The US space agency stopped its own manned launches to the International Space Station in 2011, but recently moved to increase its crew complement aboard the space station as the Russians cut theirs in a cost-saving measure announced last year.

Acaba, 50, has spent nearly 138 days in space over two missions, while Vande Hei, 50, served with the US army in Iraq before training as an astronaut.

Misurkin, 39, who is beginning his second mission aboard the space station, also has a military background.

Speaking at the pre-launch news conference on Monday, Acaba, who is of Puerto Rican heritage, said he would be taking some musica Latina on board to lift his crewmates’ spirits.

“I can guarantee my crewmates they will not fall asleep during that music and if you want to dance at about 3am tuned into our Soyuz capsule I think you’ll enjoy it,” he said.

The launch has been overshadowed by deadly storms that have battered the Caribbean and the southern half of the US. External cameras on the space station captured footage of Hurricane Irma last week brewing over the Atlantic as it prepared to wreak deadly havoc. NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston said earlier this month it suffered “significant” damage during Hurricane Harvey, although Mission Control remained operational.

Vande Hei struck a sombre note in a pre-launch tweet on Monday.

“L-2 days. Sunrise over Baikonur, Kazakhstan. Praying for the people of Florida as well as the continued recovery of the Texas Gulf Coast,” he said.

Space is one of the few areas of international cooperation between Russia and the US that has not been wrecked by tensions over the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria.

The space station orbits the Earth at a height of about 400km, circling the planet every 90 minutes at a speed of about 28,000kph.

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