First digital Soyuz spacecraft in orbit

The new digitalized Soyuz TMA-M spacecraft that blasted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on Friday has reached orbit.

On October 10, the spacecraft carrying NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and cosmonauts Aleksandr Kalery and Oleg Skripochka will dock to the International Space Station.

As members of Expedition 25 on board the ISS they will spend 159 days in space.

New navigation, control and data processing systems are also being delivered to the ISS.

The new Soyuz is the first Russian space vessel that has fully digital navigation and flight control systems, instead of the reliable, but outdated, analog telemetric system.

The expedition is going to be historic because it will receive the last two NASA shuttle missions – Discovery in November 2010, and Endeavor in March 2011. They will also receive four space trucks: two Russian Progress M cargo ships, one European ATV-2 and one Japanese HTV-2.

Oleg Skripochka will perform three spacewalks, two with cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin who is already working at the station, and another with cosmonaut Dmitry Kondratyev, who is expected at the ISS in December. Scott Kelly will greet his twin brother aboard the ISS – Mark Kelly will be the commander of the space shuttle Endeavor. Mark Kelly was also in Baikonur today to see the rocket launch, taking his brother into space.

The return date for Soyuz TMA-M is set for March 16.