The Soyuz rocket lifts off from Baikonur with its three crewmembers aboard. Traditionally, a Russian commands the crew, and all of the systems have instructions in Russian. So astronauts of all nationalities must be very familiar with Russian to safely fly to space. The Soyuz spacecraft takes anywhere from a few hours to a couple of days to reach the International Space Station.
NEXT: Achieving Weightlessness
Russian Soyuz spacecraft always carry a little stuffed animal or other toy that is attached to the spacecraft. When the engines shut off and the spacecraft is in a free fall around Earth, crews will know it because they will see the little toy floating on its tether. Here, a toy R2-D2 from "Star Wars" is shown in the foreground, with NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren in back, waving at the camera.
FINALLY: Arriving at the Space Station
Arriving at the Space Station
The big grin on Thirsk's face in this picture shows it all. After anywhere from a few hours to a couple of days in the cramped Soyuz spacecraft, the three crewmembers dock at the International Space Station and finally have a chance to stretch out. After some quick hellos, the crew gets a safety briefing and then participates in a phone call with anxious families back home. Most crews today stay on the orbiting complex for five or six months, although some stays have stretched as long as a year.