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Soyuz TMA-15M carries new crew of three to ISS

Anatoly Zak, Spaceflight Correspondent
Nov 24, 2014, 6:01 UTC, Updated Nov 24, 2014, 17:31 UTC

Sen—A trio of space travellers from US, Europe and Russia took the final passenger flight this year to the International Space Station (ISS).

The Russian Soyuz TMA-15M spacecraft blasted off as scheduled on Sunday, 23 November, at 21:01:14 UTC, (4:01 p.m. EST). It was already 24 November local time at the launch site in Baikonur, Kazakhstan.

NASA astronaut Terry Virts, Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, both veterans of one space mission each, and a rookie Italian pilot Samantha Cristoforetti, representing the European Space Agency (ESA), were on board the Soyuz for a nine-minute climb into space.

According to NASA, a ride uphill went without a hitch and Soyuz TMA-15 successfully deployed its antennas and power-generating solar arrays. In orbit, Soyuz TMA-15M is following a six-hour rendezvous trajectory to link up with the ISS after just four revolutions around the Earth.

The new crew reached the space station just five hours and 48 minutes after liftoff and four orbits around the Earth, docking at 02:49 UTC (9:49 p.m. EST) at the Rassvet (“Sunrise”) module. The hatch was opened at 05:00 UTC (0:00 a.m. EST) and they were welcomed aboard.

The three fresh crew members are expected to spend 169 days (five and a half months) in space as 42nd and 43rd long-duration expedition onboard the outpost. They will parachute back to Earth in a descent module of the same Soyuz TMA-15M spacecraft in May 2015.

Their shift onboard the outpost will overlap with one earlier crew and with another follow-up team. US astronaut Barry Wilmore and Russian cosmonauts Aleksandr Samokutyaev and Elena Serova arrived to the station in September.

In March, they will be replaced by Russian cosmonauts Gennadi Padalka and Mikhail Kornienko and by NASA astronaut Scott Kelly.

Soyuz TMA-15M was a rare piloted mission lifting off from a backup launch pad, No. 6, at Baikonur, instead of an iconic “Gagarin’s pad No. 5,” from which the first Sputnik and the first man blasted into space.

The switch had to be made due to a leaky roof covering the giant rocket assembly building at Site 112 in Baikonur, which was originally built for the ill-fated Soviet lunar program. In 2002, a roof collapse in another hall of the same building killed several workers and destroyed a relic of the Soviet shuttle Buran, which made a historic unpiloted flight in 1988.

In October, a massive snowfall in Baikonur followed by a sudden thaw resulted in the water getting into the building and threatening to short-circuit sensitive electronics onboard Soyuz rockets, the official Interfax news agency reported. As a result, technicians scrambled to move all rocket components to a much smaller assembly building at Site 31 and decided to use an adjacent launch pad.

However well informed industry sources said that the leaks had actually been caused by a botched attempt to patch the roof of the historic building. The damage to the structure turned out to be so serious that all work with Soyuz rockets in Baikonur would have to be moved to a backup facility until at least next summer, sources said.