A Russian spacecraft with three astronauts from Canada, Belgium and Russia blasted off today at 10:34 UTC on a landmark mission that will double the permanent crew of the International Space Station to six for the first time. The Soyuz TMA-15 craft carrying Belgian Frank de Winne, Canadian Robert Thirsk and Russian Roman Romanenko lifted off from the Russian-owned Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan as planned. The men will join the three crew members already on board the ISS, giving the station six permanent members for the first time.
Thirsk called the expansion from a three-person to a six-person crew a “milestone” and said one of the mission goals was “to prove the station can support six people for a long period of time.”
The Soyuz TMA-15 spaceship is scheduled to dock with the ISS on Friday. The docking will mark the first time that all partners in the ISS – the US, Russia, Europe, Japan and Canada – will be represented on board at the same time. In another first, Belgium’s De Winne will become the first European commander to take over the ISS when the crew is rotated in October, before returning to Earth in November. The new crew will join Russian Gennady Padalka, US astronaut Michael Barratt and Japan’s Koichi Wakata.
Susan Houlton (sp/ap/afp/dpa)