Three spaceflyers will launch to the International Space Station tonight (Nov. 13), to begin a months-long mission to the orbiting outpost.
NASA astronaut Dan Burbank and Russian cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin are slated to launch aboard a Russian-built Soyuz rocket tonight at 11:14 p.m. EST (0415 GMT Nov. 14) from the Baikonour Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
Tonight's liftoff will be the first manned flight of the Soyuz rocket since the Russian-built booster suffered a failure in August. It will also be the first trio of station crewmembers to launch to the complex since NASA grounded its fleet of space shuttles in July after 30 years of service.
On Aug. 24, a Soyuz rocket carrying a robotic cargo freighter suffered a crippling malfunction minutes after launch. The booster and Progress 44 cargo ship crashed in Siberia, and the 2.9 tons of supplies onboard were lost.
The crash was a rare accident for the steadfast Soyuz rockets, and the incident prompted investigations into the cause of the problem. An investigation by Russia's Federal Space Agency and an independent NASA panel pinpointed a gas generator malfunction in the rocket's third stage as the root of the issue.
While the inquiry was underway, Russian space officials halted spaceflight operations to the station since similar versions of the Soyuz rocket are used to launch unmanned Progress vehicles and crewed Soyuz capsule to the space station. [50 Great Russian Rocket Launch Photos]
On Oct. 30, in what was the first supply run to the orbiting complex since the August crash, an unmanned Progress 45 cargo ship successfully launched to the station carrying nearly 3 tons of supplies for the orbiting outpost.
Burbank, Shkaplerov and Ivanishin are expected to arrive at the space station on Wednesday (Nov. 16) at 12:33 a.m. EST (0530 GMT), and dock their Soyuz TMA-22 spacecraft to the Russian Poisk module. The three spaceflyers will join the rest of the station's Expedition 29 crew: commander Mike Fossum of NASA, Japanese astronaut Satoshi Furukawa and Russian cosmonaut Sergei Volkov.
Burbank will become commander of the space station's Expedition 30 mission once Fossum, Furukawa and Volkov depart.
"My job as a member of the Expedition 29 crew, I’m flight engineer on that crew, and as commander of Expedition 30, first and foremost I think is to make sure that we’re safe, that everybody on the crew is safe and that the space station is operated safely," Burbank said in a preflight interview. "And then beyond that is to be a lab technician, to be a collaborator with the scientists on the ground doing the science, and to do that utilization and that’s in a bit of a contrast from the kinds of missions I’ve done before in the shuttle, but I’m really looking forward to it."
Fossum, Furukawa and Volkov were the last space station crew to welcome a visiting space shuttle. The trio arrived at the outpost in June and will return to Earth on Nov. 21.