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2 Apr, 2010 05:23

Interplanetary flights next on the agenda after successful Soyuz launch

Two Russian cosmonauts and an American astronaut have arrived at the International Space Station after a two-day journey. The Soyuz spaceship docked at the ISS just a few hours ago.

The three new crew members of the International Space Station have sent their Easter congratulations from orbit during their first conversation with their family members shortly after arriving at the ISS.

“We are so happy that on this Holy Easter day the docking went so smoothly. We are all impressed,” said Russian cosmonaut Aleksandr Skvortsov. “It's a very emotional moment, and we'd like to congratulate all Christians at Easter.”

The space travelers – Aleksandr Skvortsov, Mikhail Kornienko and Tracy Caldwell Dyson – were given a warm welcome at the ISS.

The crew members at the station had tidied up and prepared lunch for their guests.

On April, 2 the Soyuz rocket with two Russian cosmonauts and an American astronaut onboard successfully blasted off at 08:04 Moscow time from Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

Even though the 12-storey high vehicle pushed by 30 million horsepower engines delivered the spacecraft into zero gravity orbit in just ten minutes, it has taken two whole days to bring the crew to its final destination.

The Soyuz TMA-18 spaceship had a standard detach from the booster and entered the calculated orbit as planned.

Mission control informed that all the crewmembers are feeling well.

The 23rd ISS expedition will spend nearly 170 days on the ISS and will perform more than 40 scientific experiments. The crew will also participate in installing a new Russian scientific module. The crew will receive three Russian unmanned Progress cargo ships.

During their shift in orbit they will also be visited by three American space shuttles – probably the last in history as NASA is due to close down its shuttle program. Once it happens, the only link between ISS and the Earth will be the Progress and Soyuz spaceships.

“They have the pleasure, I guess, of lots of work during these shuttle missions. There will be one additional shuttle mission after they return to Earth,” says Kirk Shireman, NASA’s deputy ISS programming manager. “But it is very much the end of the shuttle program, so these guys will see a lot of that ending.”

Tracy Caldwell Dyson has already visited the ISS before, but the two cosmonauts have been training for this trip for over a decade.

“It has become a lot more difficult to prepare for space flights,” says Sergey Krikalyov, the head of cosmonaut training center. “When Yury Gagarin went into space fifty years ago, his journey lasted for less than two hours and he prepared for a year. Now spacemen spend six months in orbit.”

On March 18, mankind marked 45 years since the first space walk. On April 14 it will be celebrating 50 years since the first manned space flight. Yury Karash, Aerospace Policy specialist from Raytheon, says that such huge breakthroughs are only possible if there is the political will to support ambitious space research programs.

Half a century ago the unquestioning support of the country’s leader Nikita Khrushchev was crucial for the Soviet space program as both the first Sputnik launch and first manned flight by Yury Gagarin happened when he was in power. In addition, US President John F. Kennedy, who initiated the Apollo project in America, kicked off the space race which spurred science worldwide to a great extent.

In order for the practice to survive, space exploration should excite people and near-Earth flights do not excite the public so much anymore, shared Karash. The ISS will be in operation until 2020, so “hopefully after 2020 we will see some [manned] interplanetary spaceship flying beyond the Moon’s orbit.”