Crew begin their year in space
Sen—A new crew bound for the International Space Station (ISS) blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Friday, March 27 at 19:42 UTC (1.42 am on March 28 local time).
Aboard the Soyuz TMA-16M were NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko and Gennady Padalka. The crew will orbit for about six hours before docking at the orbiting complex, which is scheduled for 01.36 UTC on March 28.
For both Kelly and Kornienko, the launch represented the start of a year in space. Though four cosmonauts undertook missions lasting between 366 and 438 days on the Mir space station, this is the first year-long mission on the ISS.
The long stay for Kelly and Kornienko should provide valuable information on the effects of long-term living in a microgravity environment—considered important for planning future deep-space missions to asteroids and Mars.
The health assessment of the astronauts will be helped by the fact that Kelly has an identical twin, Mark (a former astronaut himself), back on Earth. During the year-long mission, the brothers will be the subject of 10 chosen investigations with a team at NASA monitoring any physical changes that take place between Earth Kelly and space Kelly.
“Scott Kelly’s mission is critical to advancing the administration’s plan to send humans on a journey to Mars,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden in a statement on the NASA web site. “We’ll gain new, detailed insights on the ways long-duration spaceflight affects the human body.”
This is Scott Kelly's fourth time in space and third stay at the space station. His first flight was aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery in 1999 (STS-103) on a mission to service the Hubble Space Telescope. He served on the ISS in 2007 and again in 2010 when he commanded Expedition 26.
For cosmonaut Kornienko, this is his second spaceflight, having served as a flight engineer aboard the space station in 2010 during Expedition 23.
It is the fifth time in space for veteran cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, whose first journey into orbit was in 1998. When he returns to Earth in September, he will have had more time off the planet than any other person.
The three astronauts will join the Expedition 43 crew already aboard the space station—Terry Virts, Anton Shkaplerov and Samantha Cristoforetti.
After six months aboard the orbiting laboratory, Padalka will return, along with recording artist and spaceflight participant Sarah Brightman and European Space Agency astronaut Andreas Mogensen.
Kelly and Kornienko will return to Earth in March 2016.
Mikhail Kornienko (top), Scott Kelly, middle, and Gennady Padalka wave goodbye before boarding their Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft. Image Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls