BAIKONUR /Kazakhstan/, September 2. /TASS/. A Russian spacecraft carrying three new crew members is on its way to the International Space Station (ISS) after blasting off safely from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
Russian space agency Roscosmos told TASS the Soyuz TMA-18M spacecraft had separated from the third stage of the Soyuz-FG carrier rocket and was now heading to the ISS.
The Soyuz carrying Sergey Volkov, Andreas Mogensen and Aidyn Aimbetov blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome at 07:37 a.m. Moscow time (03:37 a.m. GMT) on Wednesday.
Russian cosmonaut Sergey Volkov has been into space before, European Space Agency flight engineer Andreas Mogensen of Denmark and Kazakh cosmonaut Aidyn Aimbetov, who was added to the mission after British singer and would-be space tourist Sarah Brightman dropped out of training earlier this year, are first-timers.
They will arrive at the ISS at 10:42 a.m. Moscow time (6:42 a.m. GMT) on Friday.
Initially, the vessel's journey to the orbiting platform was expected to take no more than six hours, but for security reasons, mission controllers opted to change the flight plan and extend the journey to two days instead of the originally planned six hours.
The current crew of the International Space Station comprises station commander Gennady Padalka and his two Soyuz TMA-16M crewmates US Scott Kelly and Russia’s Mikhail Kornienko, launched to the station last March 27; and Soyuz TMA-17 crew members Oleg Kononenko, Japanese astronaut Kimiya Yui and NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren, who arrived at the lab complex July 22. Together, the six astronauts and cosmonauts make up the Expedition 44 crew.
Padalka will turn over command of the station to Kelly, marking the end of Expedition 44 and the beginning of Expedition 4, and will return to Earth on September 12 aboard the TMA-16M spacecraft with Mogensen and Aimbetov. Volkov will remain aboard the station as a long-duration crew member, joining Kelly and Kornienko aboard the TMA-18M spacecraft for the return to Earth next March.