New Crew Launches to Space Station on Russian Rocket
Expedition 23 crew members launch aboard the Soyuz TMA-18 spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on April 2, 2010. Image
Credit: NASA TV

This story was updated at 12:35 a.m. EDT.

Three astronauts soared into space aboard a Russian rocket on a mission to the International Space Station during the early hours of Good Friday.

The spaceflyers blasted off at 12:04 a.m. EDT (0404 GMT) on the Soyuz TMA-18 spacecraft from Kazakhstan's Baikonur Cosmodrome. The launch took place amid heightened security in response to a spate of recent terrorist bombings in Russia.

Russian cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov commanded the flight, which will bring him and fellow cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko, along with NASA astronaut Tracy Caldwell Dyson, to the space station to begin long-term stints as Expedition 23 flight engineers.

"Feeling fine," Skvortsov radioed shortly after launch. "The systems are nominal and the vehicle is performing well."

The three are expected to arrive at the orbiting lab on April 4, Easter Sunday.

"For us it will be a big holiday, and we are proud that we are launching on Good Friday and docking on Easter," Skvortsov said before the flight.

Skvortsov and Kornienko are making their first spaceflights, while Dyson is a veteran NASA shuttle astronaut on her first long-duration trek to the space station.

"As a cosmonaut, as a person who?s dreamed of flying in space for a long time, naturally I am eagerly looking forward and awaiting this moment when I will find myself in space, and also I think that this will be one of the greatest goals that I can ever achieve in my life," Skvortsov said.

The three spaceflyers will join current Expedition 23 commander Oleg Kotov of Russia, as well as Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi and NASA astronaut Timothy (T.J.) Creamer. Together they will bring the crew total on the station to its maximum of six long-duration residents representing three countries.

"As to the International Space Station, it?s a priceless experiment in international cooperation," Kornienko said. "We are learning to work together, and in my opinion the next step is interplanetary exploration of space, the moon or Mars."

The astronauts plan to spend much of their time doing station upkeep duties and participating in scientific research. They will host a number of visiting spacecraft, including the space shuttle Discovery, which is set to launch with seven astronauts on April 5, only three days after the Soyuz launch.

Later on the station crew plans to receive the first-ever visits of the privately built Dragon unmanned cargo delivery spacecraft, built by SpaceX.

"I think the good news is that we get more people involved, and people want to live in space, people want to experience space, and I think this helps open the door to make that happen, to be involved in what we?re doing with the space station," Dyson said of this milestone for commercial spaceflight.

Their mission will also feature a number of spacewalks, both among the American and Russian long-term crew, and by visiting astronauts aboard space shuttle missions planned for the coming months. Dyson will participate in one spacewalk, the first of her career, to install a new fixture on the outside of the station that will provide a base for robotic arms to grab hold of.

"To be outside and experience that with nothing more than my visor between me and the structure, and then there?s the whole topic of the Earth going by," she said. "I don?t know if that?s going to be breathtaking or tripping me out, but I am really looking forward to seeing that and experiencing that."