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Russian, Dane and Kazakh are heading to the ISS

Anatoly Zak, Spaceflight Correspondent
Sep 2, 2015, 20:48 UTC

Sen—The Russian Soyuz TMA-18M spacecraft completed a flawless ride into orbit this morning with a multi-national crew, starting a two-day journey to the International Space Station (ISS).

The Soyuz-FG rocket lifted off from the historic Gagarin pad at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan exactly as scheduled at 07:37 Moscow Time (04.37 UTC) on Wednesday, Sep. 2. On board were Russian commander Sergey Volkov, plus Danish astronaut Andreas Mogensen and Kazakh cosmonaut Aidyn Aimbetov, both classified as flight engineers on the mission.

Mogensen, flying on behalf of the European Space Agency, became the first Danish citizen in space. Aimbetov, who has been training for spaceflight since 2002, got a last-minute assignment into the mission after British singer Sarah Brightman withdrew from her training earlier this year. The Kazakh government reportedly paid $20 million for the privilege, still apparently a half-price bargain that compares to a ticket price for a private tourist like Brightman.

The trio is now expected to arrive at the ISS on Friday, Sep. 4, 2015, at 10:42 Moscow Time (7:42 UTC, 3:42 a.m. EDT). The docking was initially expected just six hours after liftoff, however the unexpected space-junk avoidance maneuver on July 26 put the station too high for the shorter four-orbit rendezvous profile.

Once Soyuz TMA-18M docks at the zenith (sky-facing) docking port of the MIM2 Poisk module on the orbital outpost and the hatches into the station are opened less than three hours later, its crew will reach nine members. To support such a crowd, three Soyuz spacecraft and one Progress cargo ship will occupy all available docking ports on the Russian segment of the ISS. However Mogensen and Aimbetov will spend only eight days on the station, departing on September 11 aboard the Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft. They will be accompanied by a Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, who has lived in space since the end of March.

Volkov, along with his fresh Soyuz TMA-18M spacecraft, will remain on board the ISS until March to provide a ride home for NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and the Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko. By the time of their landing with Volkov, Kelly and Kornienko will have spent 11.5 months finishing what is known as the Year in Space mission. The experiment involves detailed medical and biological studies of the human body in space, including research deemed important for a possible future expedition to Mars.

The three other crew-members currently on the ISS are: Kjell Lindgren of NASA, Oleg Kononenko of Roscosmos and Kimiya Yui, representing the Japanese space agency (JAXA), who arrived aboard the Soyuz TMA-17 spacecraft on July 23. They are scheduled to complete a "routine" 163-day shift on the ISS concluding in December.