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Three men launched into space for half-year voyage
BY WILLIAM HARWOOD
STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS "SPACE PLACE" & USED WITH PERMISSION
Posted: October 7, 2010


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An upgraded Soyuz spacecraft carrying veteran shuttle astronaut Scott Kelly, Soyuz commander Alexander Kaleri and flight engineer Oleg Skripochka blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan late Thursday, kicking off a two-day flight to the International Space Station.


Credit: NASA/Roscosmos/RSC Energia
 
Under a dark, pre-dawn sky, the launcher's main engines roared to life on time and the Soyuz rocket, trailing a sky-lighting plume of fiery exhaust, climbed away at 7:10:55 p.m. EDT (23:10:55 GMT).

Looking on with family members, dignitaries and U.S. and Russian space officials was Mark Kelly, Scott Kelly's twin brother, who will command the shuttle Endeavour during a space station assembly flight in February. If the schedule holds up, it will be the first time "two blood relatives have ever been in space together," Kelly said in a pre-launch NASA interview.

"It's exciting," he said. "I've obviously known my brother a really long time, and we're great friends and it's a real privilege to share the experience with someone you're so close to."

During launch Thursday, live television views from inside the spacecraft showed Kelly in the Soyuz TMA-01M's right seat, with Kaleri in the center seat and Skripochka, making his first flight, to his left. All three appeared relaxed and in good spirits as the rocket accelerated toward orbit, smiling and occasionally waving at the camera.

"Thank you so much for all your hard work," Kaleri told supporters before launch. "We are prepared to start the work and with all the responsibility we have, I must say we are excited about this, especially for those who do this for the first time. Thank you."

Eight and a half minutes after liftoff, the upgraded Soyuz TMA-01M spacecraft slipped into its planned preliminary orbit. Moments later, its two solar panels and antennas unfolded and Russian flight controllers said the spacecraft was in good shape as it set off after the International Space Station.

If all goes well, Kaleri will oversee an automated docking at the upward-facing port of the Russian Poisk compartment atop the station's Zvezda command module around 8:02 p.m. Saturday (00:02 GMT Sunday).

"Congratulations to you on a successful ascent to orbit," radioed chief flight director Vladimir Solovyov. "Everything looks nominal. We're going to analyze the issues you've been having during pre-launch operations. Otherwise, everything looks great. Have a good flight."

The Soyuz TMA-01M spacecraft features a variety of avionics and computer upgrades that are being flown for the first time. It was not immediately known if the unspecified issues referred to by Solovyov involved any of the new equipment.

"The improvements are rather significant," Kelly said in a NASA interview. "The displays that the cosmonauts and myself ... use to control the vehicle have been upgraded to make flying it easier. It's less operator intensive. But the main and most important change is they have a new, what we would refer to as a flight control computer."

The software used to control the spacecraft was tested in unmanned Progress supply ships, "but the Progress doesn't re-enter the same way as the Soyuz does," Kelly said.

"So when we come home in March, it'll be the first time that this new flight control computer and the entry software will be demonstrated in flight."

Kaleri, Kelly and Skripochka will join Expedition 25 commander Douglas Wheelock, Shannon Walker and Fyodor Yurchikhin aboard the station, boosting the lab's crew size back to six. Wheelock, Walker and Yurchikhin are scheduled to depart at the end of November.

Three fresh crew members -- Dmitri Kondratyev, Catherine Coleman and Paolo Nespoli -- are scheduled for launch Dec. 13, assuming an investigation into an apparent shipping mishap does not reveal any significant damage to their spacecraft.

As of this writing, it's not yet clear if that flight will stay on schedule, but Russian managers believe that can switch to a backup spacecraft, if necessary, and still launch in December.

Spaceflight Now Plus
Additional coverage for subscribers:
VIDEO: FULL EXPERIENCE FROM LIFTOFF TO ORBIT PLAY
VIDEO: CREW DEPARTS SITE 254 FOR LAUNCH PAD PLAY
VIDEO: VIPS MEET THE CREW ON LAUNCH MORNING PLAY
VIDEO: CREW MEMBERS DON THEIR SOKOL SPACESUITS PLAY
VIDEO: LAUNCH MORNING TRADITIONS AT CREW QUARTERS PLAY

VIDEO: BIOGRAPHIES OF KELLY, KALERI AND SKRIPOCHKA PLAY
VIDEO: PRE-LAUNCH INTERVIEW WITH SCOTT KELLY PLAY
VIDEO: PRE-LAUNCH INTERVIEW WITH ALEXANDER KALERI PLAY
VIDEO: PRE-LAUNCH INTERVIEW WITH OLEG SKRIPOCHKA PLAY

VIDEO: SOYUZ ROCKET ROLLED TO THE LAUNCH PAD PLAY
VIDEO: POST-ROLLOUT COMMENTS FROM NASA VIPS PLAY
VIDEO: ASSEMBLY OF SOYUZ COMPLETED IN THE HANGAR PLAY
VIDEO: HIGHLIGHTS OF CREW'S ACTIVITIES AT BAIKONUR PLAY
VIDEO: CREW'S DEPARTURE FROM STAR CITY TRAINING BASE PLAY
VIDEO: PRIME AND BACKUP CREWS MEET WITH REPORTERS PLAY

VIDEO: REMARKABLE VIDEO OF CREW EXITING CAPSULE PLAY
VIDEO: AERIAL FOOTAGE OF THE SOYUZ SAFELY LANDING PLAY
VIDEO: SOYUZ TMA-18 DEPARTS THE SPACE STATION PLAY
VIDEO: CREW BOARDS SOYUZ CAPSULE FOR DEPARTURE PLAY
VIDEO: SPACE STATION CHANGE OF COMMAND CEREMONY PLAY

VIDEO: WATCH CARGO FREIGHTER DOCK TO SPACE STATION PLAY
VIDEO: LAUNCH OF SOYUZ ROCKET WITH PROGRESS 39P PLAY

VIDEO: POST-SPACEWALK NO. 3 STATUS BRIEFING PLAY
VIDEO: SPACEWALKERS CONCLUDE THE THIRD EVA PLAY
VIDEO: AMMONIA HOSES ARE ATTACHED TO THE PUMP PLAY
VIDEO: POWER AND DATA LINES BRING PUMP TO LIFE PLAY
VIDEO: REPLACEMENT PUMP SECURELY BOLTED DOWN PLAY
VIDEO: PUMP INSERTED INTO SPACE STATION SLOT PLAY
VIDEO: SPACEWALKER HAULS PUMP OVER TO TRUSS PLAY
VIDEO: RETRIEVING THE REPLACEMENT PUMP PLAY
VIDEO: SPACEWALK NO. 3 BEGINS PLAY

VIDEO: POST-SPACEWALK NO. 2 STATUS BRIEFING PLAY
VIDEO: FAILED COOLANT PUMP REMOVED FROM THE STATION PLAY
VIDEO: ROBOT ARM MANEUVERS SPACEWALKER AROUND PLAY
VIDEO: POWER AND DATA LINES UNPLUGGED PLAY
VIDEO: TROUBLESOME UMBILICAL DETACHED PLAY
VIDEO: NO REPEAT OF AMMONIA LEAK PLAY

VIDEO: POST-SPACEWALK NO. 1 STATUS BRIEFING PLAY
VIDEO: PROBLEM CONNECTOR FINALLY FREED BUT THEN LEAKS PLAY
VIDEO: LEFT-HAND AMMONIA UMBILICAL COMES OFF WITH EASE PLAY
VIDEO: SKIPPING OVER PROBLEM CONNECTOR TO DO ANOTHER PLAY
VIDEO: TROUBLES AND ADVICE FOR STUCK AMMONIA LINE PLAY
VIDEO: PUMP'S SMALL COOLING LINE UNPLUGGED PLAY
VIDEO: SPACEWALKER DOUG WHEELOCK WORKS ON OLD PUMP PLAY
VIDEO: BRIEFING ON PUMP FAILURE AND SPACEWALKS PLAY

VIDEO: FULL BROADCAST OF SUPPLY SHIP'S DOCKING PLAY
VIDEO: WATCH CARGO FREIGHTER DOCK TO SPACE STATION PLAY
VIDEO: PROGRESS 38P FREIGHTER LAUNCHED PLAY

VIDEO: ORANGE COUNTY AND AL JAZEERA MEDIA INTERVIEWS PLAY

VIDEO: SOYUZ RELOCATED FROM ZVEZDA TO RASSVET PLAY

VIDEO: WELCOME CEREMONY FOR THE NEW RESIDENTS PLAY
VIDEO: POST-DOCKING NEWS BRIEFING IN RUSSIA PLAY
VIDEO: SOYUZ DOCKS TO THE SPACE STATION PLAY

VIDEO: FULL EXPERIENCE FROM LIFTOFF TO ORBIT PLAY
VIDEO: ENTIRE EXPEDITION 24 LAUNCH BROADCAST PLAY
VIDEO: CREW DEPARTS SITE 254 FOR LAUNCH PAD PLAY
VIDEO: VIPS MEET THE CREW ON LAUNCH MORNING PLAY
VIDEO: CREW MEMBERS DON THEIR SOKOL SPACESUITS PLAY
VIDEO: LAUNCH MORNING TRADITIONS AT CREW QUARTERS PLAY

VIDEO: SOYUZ ROCKET ROLLED TO THE LAUNCH PAD PLAY
VIDEO: POST-ROLLOUT COMMENTS FROM NASA OFFICIAL PLAY
VIDEO: ASSEMBLY OF SOYUZ COMPLETED IN THE HANGAR PLAY
VIDEO: HIGHLIGHTS OF CREW'S ACTIVITIES AT BAIKONUR PLAY
VIDEO: CREW'S DEPARTURE FROM STAR CITY TRAINING BASE PLAY
VIDEO: PRIME AND BACKUP CREWS MEET WITH REPORTERS PLAY
VIDEO: CEREMONIAL VISIT TO RED SQUARE IN MOSCOW PLAY
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