BAIKONUR, KAZAKHSTAN: An international trio flying in a Russian capsule docked with the International Space Station (ISS) on Wednesday with a busy schedule full of space walks and an encounter with a pioneering US cargo craft.
The six-month mission of Russian commander Fyodor Yurchikhin and his two flight engineers —Karen Nyberg of National Aeronautics and Space Administration and Italian Luca Parmitano of the European Space Agency—began once their craft sidled up to the orbiting lab six hours after blasting off from the Moscow-owned Baikonur space centre in Kazakhstan.
The Soyuz took a shortcut that slashed the travel time from the usual 48 hours thanks to a special orbit that catapaults the astronauts directly to their destination.
The abridged journey had rarely been tried in the past because it puts greater stress on the astronauts’ bodies.
But one such trip was successfully completed earlier this year and Russia decided to repeat the experience with a view to making the six-hour journey the norm for future travel to the ISS. The trio’s six-month mission will include six space walks and a link-up with a pioneer US spacecraft called Cygnus.
The Cygnus is an unmanned resupply ship being designed by the private Orbital Sciences Corporation as part of a broader NASA effort to get commercial firms to fill the void left by the retired US space shuttle program.