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Soyuz takes new crew to the space station

Dr Amanda Doyle, Feature writer
May 16, 2012, 7:00 UTC

Sen—A Soyuz TMA-04M spacecraft launched successfully on May 15 carrying three crew bound for the space station. The Soyuz craft will dock with the space station on Thursday.

Aboard the spacecraft are NASA astronaut Joe Acaba and Russian cosmonauts Gennady Padalka and Sergei Revin. 

The Soyuz TMA-04M spacecraft launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 09:01 local time on May 15 (3.01am UTC). The spacecraft reached orbit after 10 minutes, but will not dock with the Poisk Mini-Research Module on the ISS until Thursday May 17. Acaba, Padalka, and Revin will spend four months aboard the space station.

The three newcomers will join Oleg Kononenko, Don Pettit, and Andre Kuipers to complete the Expedition 31 crew.

This is Joe Acaba's second time in space, having previously been part of the Space Shuttle Discovery STS-119 mission to the ISS in March 2009. Acaba spent almost 13 hours of the mission outside the ISS in two separate spacewalks. Acaba will serve as a flight engineer during Expedition 31.

Expedition 31/32 will be Padalka’s fourth time in space and his third voyage to the ISS, having participated in Expedition 9 in 2004 and commanded Expedition 19 in 2009. Padalka also spent 198 days aboard the Mir space station in 1999. He will serve as a flight engineer on the ISS.

This will be the first spaceflight for Sergei Revin. He was selected to train as a cosmonaut in 1996, and completed spaceflight training in 1998. He will serve as a flight engineer for the Expedition 31 crew.

The new crew are also joined by a Smokey Bear plush toy that is serving as the Soyuz “talisman.” Acaba hopes that Smokey Bear’s trip will help to raise awareness of human-caused wildfires, as Smokey Bear is a symbol for wildfire prevention.

The new crew will join Kononenko, Pettit, and Kuipers who have been on the ISS since 23 December. 

The six crew will serve together as Expedition 31 until July 1 when the return of Kononenko, Pettit, and Kuipers will initiate Expedition 32 aboard the ISS, with Padalka taking over command.

In mid-July they will be joined by NASA astronaut Suni Williams, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko, and JAXA astronaut Aki Hoshide, which will bring Expedition 32 up to six members.

Since the retirement of the Space Shuttle in 2011, the Russian Soyuz spacecraft is the only craft capable of transporting astronauts to and from the space station.

However, a number of private companies are developing craft with the aim of winning contracts with NASA for ferrying astronauts to the ISS. Companies developing human spaceflight capabilities include SpaceX, due to launch its unmanned cargo flight to the ISS on May 19, and ATK which is proposing 'Liberty'. Boeing, Sierra Nevada Corporation and Blue Origin are also hoping to demonstrate their crew ships for low Earth orbit missions.