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Soyuz TMA-12M launches three-man crew for space station


Soyuz TMA-12M lifts off the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan for the International Space Station, March 25. (NASA/Joel Kowsky)
Update for March 27, 2014; 6:55 p.m. CDT — Two days after departing for a six-hour trip to the International Space Station, Soyuz TMA-12M arrived at the orbiting outpost on Thursday evening (March 27).

The Russian spacecraft performed an automated docking with the station's Poisk mini-research module at 6:53 p.m. CDT (2353 GMT) while flying above Brazil.

The docking marked the end of a 34-orbit rendezvous that resulted from a missed engine firing hours after the Soyuz launched on Tuesday (March 25).


Soyuz TMA-12M, as seen from a camera aboard the International Space Station, as it approached on March 27, 2014. (NASA TV)
Now at the space station, the TMA-12M crew of Alexander Skvortsov, Oleg Artemyev, and Steve Swanson will serve as flight engineers on the outpost's Expedition 39 crew.



Update for March 25, 2014; 8:45 pm CDT – The arrival of Soyuz TMA-12M at the International Space Station, which had been planned for six hours after launch, will now take place on Thursday night (March 27), the result of a missed engine firing.

Flight controllers at Russia's Mission Control near Moscow have reverted the flight to the backup 34-orbit rendezvous, which has retargeted the docking for 6:58 p.m. CDT (2358 GMT) Thursday.

This longer rendezvous was the standard flight profile until last year; Soyuz TMA-12M would have been only the fifth mission to fly the accelerated timeline.

As the crew follows the revised schedule, flight controllers are reviewing data to determine why the third thruster burn did not occur as expected. Initial information indicates the Soyuz may not have been in the proper orientation.



March 25, 2014 — A second-generation cosmonaut, an astronaut outdoorsman, and a cosmonaut who grew up in the shadow of his rocket's launch pad left the Earth for the International Space Station on Tuesday (March 25), where they will spend the next five and a half months conducting science experiments and operating the orbiting outpost.

Roscosmos cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov, cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev and NASA astronaut Steve Swanson lifted off onboard Russia's Soyuz TMA-12M spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The Soyuz rocket launched at 4:17 p.m. CDT (2117 GMT; 3:17 a.m. Kazakh time March 26) from the same pad used by the first man to fly in space, Yuri Gagarin, in April 1961.

Flying under the callsign Утёс ("Utyos," "Cliff"), the Soyuz TMA-12M crew were lofted into an accelerated trajectory to arrive at the space station in just six hours after circling the Earth four times. The trio were set to dock their Soyuz to the station's Poisk module at 10:04 p.m. CDT Tuesday night (0304 GMT March 26).


NASA astronaut Rick Mastracchio took this photo of the TMA-12M launch from onboard the International Space Station. (NASA)
Waiting to welcome Skvortsov, Artemyev and Swanson to the space station was commander Koichi Wakata with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, flight engineer Rick Mastracchio of NASA and flight engineer Mikhail Tyurin of Roscosmos. The three have been working on the orbiting complex since early November.

Together the six astronauts and cosmonauts will continue the space station's 39th expedition through May 14, when Wakata, Mastracchio and Tyurin will depart the outpost to return to Earth. Swanson will then take command of the station, leading the Expedition 40 crew, including Russian cosmonaut Max Suraev, NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman, and European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Alex Gerst, who are due to arrive on Soyuz TMA-13M on May 28.

Skvortsov, Artemyev and Swanson are scheduled to stay aboard the station through Sept. 11. During their five and a half months aboard the orbital laboratory, they will conduct more than 200 science experiments, participate in at least three spacewalks, and oversee the arrival of as many as seven cargo supply ships.

"We'll have a lot of traffic from the cargo vehicles coming up," Swanson said at a press briefing held the day before he and his crew launched. "We'll have two SpaceX Dragon vehicles, we will have an Orbital Cygnus vehicle, and we'll also have the ATV [Automated Transfer Vehicle] from the European Space Agency."

"And this will bring many different experiments and cargo to the station," he continued. "It'll keep us busy unloading, doing the science, and loading it back up, but we are well prepared."


The Soyuz TMA-12M crew, Alexander Skvortsov, Steve Swanson and Oleg Artemyev wave before boarding their spacecraft at the Baikonur Cosmodrome on March 25, 2014. (NASA/Joel Kowsky)
The first of those deliveries is scheduled to take place just one week after they dock with the arrival of SpaceX's third NASA-contracted Dragon. Later in the expedition, the crew will see the arrival of ESA's "Georges Lemaître," the fifth and last of the European cargo vehicles to fly to the space station.

ISS Expedition 39/40 will be the third time Swanson has been to the space station, the second time Skvortsov has lived there and the first time Artemyev has been to space.

A self-described outdoorsman who grew up in Steamboat Springs, Colo., Swanson flew twice to the station while it was still under construction, helping to build the backbone truss as a crew member on shuttle missions STS-117 and STS-119 in 2007 and 2009, respectively. In the course of those flights, he performed four spacewalks.

Skvortsov previously flew to the station on Soyuz TMA-18 in 2010, and served as the commander of Expedition 24. He is Russia's third second-generation career cosmonaut; his father, Alexander Skvortsov Sr., was selected with the third group of Soviet Air Force pilot trainees in 1965, but he was subsequently medically grounded.

"My father was in the cosmonaut corps, but did not have a chance to fly," Skvortsov said Monday (March 24). "It was his dream and my dream."


Soyuz TMA-12M crew patch. (Roscosmos/spacepatches.nl)
Artemyev also shares a boyhood connection to the space program: his hometown. Though he was born in Latvia, he moved at a very young age to the Kazakh city that would later be known as Baikonur, the site of the Cosmodrome. Unlike Skvortsov, he did not dream of flying in space.

"Since I was a boy, we always thought of cosmonauts as the people that we always had to go meet and greet," he said as part of a NASA interview. "They would pull us out of the activities that we actually enjoyed, line us up along the road and make us wave little flags to greet them."

"[The cosmonauts] would not always come on time, so in winter you were cold [while] standing there by the side of the road. In summer, you were very hot, just due to the Kazakhstan climate," Artemyev said. "So I never dreamed of being a cosmonaut."

Although Soyuz TMA-12M was his first launch into space, Artemyev previously served on 15- and 105-day simulated missions as part of Mars 500, a psychosocial experiment conducted by Russia, China and ESA.

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Soyuz TMA-12M launches to ISS
Video credit: NASA