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U. S., Russian and Japanese Astronauts Lift Off for Space Station from Kazakhstan

 

Soyuz commander Yuri Malenchenko, left, and NASA's Sunita Williams, right, the Soyuz flight engineer, await lift off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide is seated to the right of Malenchenko and out of the image. Photo Credit/NASA TV

An all veteran crew of U. S., Russian and Japanese astronauts lifted off for the International Space Station late Saturday and a demanding four month mission filled with multi-national resupply activities, a pair of spacewalks and a challenging research agenda.

Russia’s 31 mission Soyuz spacecraft thundered away from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazahkstan with NASA’s Sunita Williams, Russia’s Yuri Malenchenko and Japan’s Akihiko Hoshide at 10:40 p.m., EDT.

Their spacecraft settled into an initial orbit nine minutes later, successfully deploying communications antennas and solar arrays.

The launching  placed them on a course to dock with the space station on Tuesday at 12:50 a.m., EDT. They’ll join the station’s Expedition 32 crew, commander Gennady Padalka of Russia, his fellow cosmonaut Sergei Revin and Joe Acaba of the United States.

The newcomers replace a U. S., Russian and European crew that departed the station and descended to Earth on July 1.

The next six weeks will demand much of the station crew.

They’re scheduled to receive Japanese as well as Russian re-supply craft. A Russian Progress freighter already docked at the station will depart and return a day later for a test of a new rendezvous antenna.

Akihiko Hoshide, Yuri Malenchenko and Sunita Williams, pictured left to right, pose before their Soyuz booster. Image Credit/NASA Photo

The Japanese cargo craft, sheduled to lift off July 20, will bring 4.6 tons of cargo, including the first space station aquarium. The water tank will serve as home to a least two species of fish. The fish are subjects in experiments that study bone loss rates in the absence of gravity.

In August, two spacewalks are planned.

Padalka and Malenchenko have trained for an Aug. 16 outing in which they will move an external cargo crane to prepare for the arrival of a new Russian science module next year. They will also install orbital debris impact shielding on one of the space station’s oldest modules.

Williams and Hoshide will follow with an Aug. 30 spacewalk to replace a main bus switching unit on the station’s solar power truss.  The switching unit, which distributed solar power to to the station’s U. S segmen, was damaged late last year.

The NASA sponsored spacewalk represents the first by a U. S. astronaut since the final space shuttle mission in July 2011. That shuttle flight brought the long assembly of the station’s  U. S. segment to a close.

NASA’s focus has since shifted to scientific experiments.

In all, the station’s six astronauts will participate in or monitor more than 200 on going science experiments. The research activities are focused on human health, biology, physics, materials science, Earth observations, astrophysics and robotics.

 

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