Russia’s Soyuz TMA-17M capsule has successfully docked at the International Space Station about six hours after blasting off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The spacecraft was launched at 3:02 AM local time on Thursday (5:02 PM EDT Wednesday). Three astronauts from Russia, Japan and the U.S. aboard Soyuz have now joined another three already on the ISS.
Soyuz launch was delayed by almost two months
It is the first time in six weeks that the space station has a full six-member crew. Russian astronaut Oleg Kononenko, Kimiya Yui of Japan, and Kjell Lindgren from the US were welcomed by Scott Kelly of the US and Russians Mikhail Kornienko and Gennady Padalka. Just 20 minutes after the Soyuz Expedition 44 took off, Kononenko declared that everything was normal.
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Soyuz TMA-17M capsule was supposed to take these tree astronauts to the International Space Station in May. But it was among many space projects postponed following the failure of the unmanned Progress 59 supply mission in April. The botched launch of cargo ship raised concerns about the Russian space technology.
That launch stranded the Progress 59 cargo in an orbit too low to reach the ISS. It was carrying about three tons of supplies and equipment. Nine days later, the cargo ship was incinerated as it entered the Earth’s atmosphere. Two U.S. companies SpaceX and Orbital ATK are also grounded due to mishaps last month and in October 2014.
Only one pair of Soyuz’s solar arrays were deployed
Anyway, astronauts were confident about Thursday’s launch. Kjell Lindgren said in a pre-launch news conference, “We’re confident in the rocket.” He added that it was disappointing to see several cargo ships undergo mishaps.
The Soyuz capsule arrived at the International Space Station with only one pair of its power-producing solar arrays deployed. Kyle Herring, the mission commander at NASA, said the glitch had absolutely no impact on the ship’s flight or docking. Russia’s Soyuz rockets rely on the Soviet-era technology.