Expedition 10 Crew Successfully Launches Into Space
A Soyuz booster rocket blasts off from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, on Thursday, Oct. 14, 2004. The rocket carries U.S. astronaut Leroy Chiao and Russians Salizhan Sharipov and Yuri Shargin on a mission to the international space station.
Credit: AP Photo/Mikhial Metzel.

A fresh space station crew and one visiting cosmonaut are on their way to the International Space Station (ISS) after their Soyuz rocket pierced the skies above Kazakhstan during a flawless launch today.

Tucked inside their Soyuz TMA-5 spacecraft, ISS Expedition 10 commander Leroy Chiao and flight engineer Salizhan Sharipov enjoyed clear skies as they left the bonds of Earth and began a two-day trip toward the space station.

Russian Space Forces cosmonaut Yuri Shargin, a space station visitor, also rode into space with the Expedition 10 crew and has a packed schedule of science experiments for the eight days he will spend aboard the ISS. Chiao and Sharipov will spend the next six months living aboard the space station during their mission.

"Everything is going fine onboard," Sharipov told Russian flight controllers as Expedition 10's rocket shot into space. "The crew is doing fine."

Expedition 10's on-time space shot took place at 11:06:26 p.m. EDT on Oct. 13 (0306:26 Oct. 14 GMT), though it was 9:09:26 in the morning at the launch's Site 254 staging ground at Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The launch pad was also the starting point for the world's first human spaceflight by Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin in 1961.

"It was beautiful weather for the launch and all systems seems to be working," said Fred Gregory, NASA's deputy administrator, from Baikonur Cosmodrome. "The maintenance of the space station is essential and mandatory for our next steps of space exploration."

About nine minutes after liftoff, Expedition 10 entered space and Sharipov let a figurine of Felix the Cat- one of his daughter's favorite characters - float free in the weightless environment.

While both Chiao and Sharipov are veteran astronauts, Expedition 10's launch marked the first time any of the three Soyuz TMA-5 crewmembers flew aboard the Russian-built Soyuz spacecraft. Both men have flown aboard NASA space shuttles.

"I'm looking forward to flying on the Soyuz," Chiao said to reporters of the Soyuz flight during an Oct. 13 preflight news conference. "It will be an unparalleled adventure for me."

Sharipov is commanding the two-day Soyuz flight to the ISS, which includes three engine burns to boost the spacecraft into docking position for the space station. Chiao and Shargin are serving as flight engineers during the brief trip.

"We've trained intensively for this trip," said Shargin, who is making his first foray into space with this flight, during the preflight conference. "I am confident we will accomplish everything."

Trained as spacewalk specialist, Chiao is a veteran of three NASA shuttle flights, including a station construction mission in 2000 where he helped add the Z1 truss to the space station. Sharipov served as a mission specialist aboard Endeavor during a 1998 flight to the then-operational Mir space station. Expedition 10 will be the first long-duration flight for the seasoned crewmembers.

In addition to their science and station-keeping duties, Chiao and Sharipov will conduct two spacewalks during their ISS mission.

The Expedition 10 crew is inheriting some ongoing issues that space station tenants, Expedition 9's Gennady Padalka and Michael Fincke, have worked with over the last few months.

Among them, Chiao will continue Fincke's troubleshooting work on U.S. spacesuits aboard the ISS in an effort to restore them to working order. Expedition 10 will also continue repair work to the space station's Elektron oxygen generating device, which has been working intermittently over the last few weeks.

"Gennady Padalka and Michael Fincke have already finished much of the repair work," Sharipov said before launch. "We hope to finish that work during the crew transfer."

Shargin and the Expedition 10 crew are set to dock with the ISS on Oct. 16 at 12:25 a.m. EDT (0425 GMT). After about eight days of crew changeover activities, Shargin and the Expedition 9 crew will return to Earth on Oct. 23.