New Crew Aboard ISS – Russian Duo And An American Space Veteran Reach Space Laboratory In Soyuz Spacecraft

The new crew safely reached ISS on a Soyuz spacecraft after a short, six-hour journey. Among the trio are two Russians and an American who is a space veteran. The "space grandpa" is expected to enter the record books during his stint aboard the International Space Station.

A Russian-made Soyuz space capsule successfully blasted off from the country's manned space launch complex in Baikonur, Kazakhstan. It ferried Russians Alexey Ovchinin and Oleg Skripochka along with NASA's Jeff Williams. The capsule carrying the astronauts safely and securely docked with the space station after a rather brief journey that lasted only about six hours. The new ISS crew will spend about six months aboard the space laboratory orbiting above earth. The most notable member of the new ISS crew is undoubtedly Jeff Williams, who will have completed about 534 days in space, spread over multiple missions.

NASA astronaut Jeff Williams and cosmonauts Alexey Ovchinin and Oleg Skripochka were scheduled to blast off aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket today at 5:26 p.m. EDT (2126 GMT) and the program followed the schedule perfectly. According to the American space agency the Russian spacecraft carrying the astronauts docked at 0309 GMT Saturday some 407 kilometers (253 miles) above the Pacific Ocean, off the western coast of Peru, reported Yahoo.

The rocket took off in rather windy conditions, but apart from the wind, the launch conditions were great. The rocket features a portrait of the first man in space, Soviet hero Yuri Gagarin. The gesture is to commemorate the first orbital flight was made nearly 55 years ago, on April 12, 1961.

Interestingly, the trio orbited the earth four times in their approximately six-hour journey to the ISS, noted NASA. Despite the complexities involved, the astronauts arrived slightly earlier than initially planned. According to the mission dossier, the Soyuz capsule was supposed to dock with the ISS at 11:12 p.m. EDT tonight (0312 GMT), but it docked about three minutes earlier.

However, even the astronauts aren't immune to the delays born from formalities. After reaching the ISS, the new crew had to wait another two hours, before the interlocking hatches were opened and they were greeted by American Tim Kopra, Russia's Yuri Malenchenko and European Space Agency's Briton Tim Peake. The trio already onboard the ISS had the entire floating space laboratory to themselves since March 1. That was when the legendary astronaut Scott Kelly, accompanied by Mikhail Kornienko and Sergey Volkov departed for Earth.
According to Discovery, Kelly and Kornienko spent an unprecedented 340 straight days aboard the ISS. Their extended presence onboard the ISS was critical to study what space does to humans during extended stays in zero gravity. These brave astronauts have successfully laid the foundation for crewed journeys to faraway Mars. The astronauts not only have to stay in shape, which is a huge challenge because of zero gravity, but also have to stay sane and sharp.

Incidentally, Kelly was quite close to maintaining his record. After completing the latest stint aboard the ISS, he had completed 520 days in space. However, space veteran Jeff Williams is all set to break Kelly's record. After completing his six month tenure, Williams will have completed 534 days in zero-gravity. Russian Gennady Padalka holds the world record at 878 days, reported WGNTV. Interestingly, Williams is also embarking upon his third ISS mission, which is another American record.

Apart from the new crew onboard the ISS, there's supposed to be a robot as well. The Cygnus cargo spacecraft, built by American company Orbital ATK, is all set to reach the ISS on a resupply mission scheduled to launch next week Tuesday. However, unlike the six-hour journey, Cygnus appears to be flying coach and is expected to arrive at the space station four days later.

[Photo by NASA/Getty Images]