Soyuz takes manned space mission to ISS, 1st time since Progress, SpaceX failures

A new space crew has reached the International Space Station on a Soyuz ship in the first piloted flight after several cargo spacecraft crashes in the last three months.

The Soyuz TMA-17M ship with the three man crew successfully docked at the ISS around 5:46am MSK (2:46am GMT). The docking took place in an automatic mode despite a minor malfunction that prevented one of the spacecraft’s solar panels from unfolding after separation from the booster.

The crew reached the station in under six hours after the space launch vehicle Soyuz-FG carrying the ship launched from Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakstan at 9:03pm GMT July 22.

The new six-month mission consists of Russia’s Oleg Kononenko, Japan’s Kimiya Yui and an American, Kjell Lindgren. Yui and Lindgren travel into orbit for the first time, while Kononenko is going to the ISS for the third time; he has already spent 391 hours in orbit and completed three space walks.

The station currently hosts members of the 44th space mission – Russians Gennady Padalka and Mikhail Korniyenko as well as American Scott Kelly.

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The journey into orbit comes after three difficult months for the world space industry, marked by several space ship crashes.

Initially the three should have traveled to the ISS on May 26. However, their flight was postponed after a cargo spacecraft based on a Soyuz carrying rocket with the Progress M-27M cargo vehicle burned up in the atmosphere in late April. Just several weeks later, another Russian rocket, the Proton-M, carrying a Mexican satellite deviated from its course and also burned up, never reaching orbit.

In June, America’s SpaceX’s Falcon cargo rocket aimed at delivering supplies to the ISS also crashed, failing in its mission as it exploded shortly after takeoff.

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All these incidents have led to reasonable concerns in the Mission Control Center.

[The crew] was really worried. All of us were worried: the testing crews, the spaceport stuff and basically everyone involved,” Sergey Podtikhov, a veteran Baikonur staffer told RT correspondent Ilya Petrenko.

However, during the press conference before the takeoff, the crew expressed confidence in the reliability and safety of the Russian space ship.

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We had two trainings on the Soyuz rocket and we had no reservations about the space ship,” Oleg Kononenko said.

Not only Roscosmos, but also NASA and also JAXA people worked really hard to confirm the safety of our vehicle. So I’m pretty confident that the next launch will even be maybe the safest launch,” said Kimiya Yui.

During the space mission, Oleg Kononenko will conduct an experiment, remote controlling robots on the ground from the orbit. This is a part of the joint Russian-German project called “Contour-2.”

On board of the International Space Station, I will remotely control two robots – one in St.Petersburg and one in Munich. The goal of this project is to complete the work on the remote controlling of on-planet robots,” Oleg Kononenko said as quoted by TASS.