The three astronauts onboard Russia’s Soyuz rocket have safely reached the International Space Station. The manned mission was the spacecraft’s first since October’s forced emergency landing.
On Monday, Dec. 3, veteran Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, American astronaut Anne McClain, and Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The new crew reached the orbiting outpost six hours later, arriving at 12:33 p.m. E.T.
Soyuz Successful Liftoff
NASA spokesperson Gary Johnson described the mission as “textbook launch and insertion into orbit” during the liftoff commentary.
The past few months had been tense at Roscosmos, Russia’s space agency. On Oct. 11, a Soyuz rocket carrying two astronauts — one American and one Russian — malfunctioned, forcing the crew to abort the mission. Although neither passenger was harmed, Nick Hague and Alexey Ovchinin had to make a ballistic descent.
The event was the first failed manned launch for the Russian space program since 1983 when a Soyuz rocket exploded on the launch pad.
Despite October’s emergency landing, however, astronauts expressed continued confidence on the Soyuz. Cosmonaut Kononenko said on Sunday, Dec. 2, during a press conference, that he “absolutely” trusts the flight plan.
“Risk is part of our profession,” he stated. “We are psychologically and technically prepared for blast-off and any situation which, God forbid, may occur onboard.”
NASA also repeatedly dispelled drama between the two space agencies in the past, promising continued cooperation. Roscosmos is the only organization that can ferry astronauts to the ISS so far. The United States has been relying on its services since 2001 after the space shuttle program shut down.
Next year, however, Russia will see intense international competition. NASA has awarded multi-billion dollar contracts to SpaceX and Boeing as part of the space agency’s Commercial Crew Program.
ISS Crew Back To Work
The launch on Monday was initially scheduled later this month, but it was moved up after October’s failure to avoid leaving the ISS unmanned. Its current crew — Sergey Prokopyev, Serena Auñón-Chancellor, and Commander Alexander Gerst — will return to Earth on Dec. 20.
Astronaut Hague and cosmonaut Ovchinin will once again attempt to join the ISS crew on Feb. 28, 2019, alongside Christina Hammock Koch. The trio will return to Earth in October 2019.