The Russian built Soyuz space TMA-18 capsule blasted off today (Good Friday, April 2) at 12:04 AM EDT (8:04 AM Moscow time) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, with a Russian American crew for a 2 day trip through space that will carry them to the International Space Station (ISS) for a docking on Easter Sunday.On board the capsule are an American female NASA astronaut on her 2nd trip to space, Tracy Caldwell Dyson and two male Russian rookies, cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov and Mikhail Kornienko. Upon arrival at the ISS, this new space crew will restore the ISS to its full complement of six residents to complete the on orbit staffing of ISS Expedition 23. There is currently only a crew of three space flyers on board comprising Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kotov, NASA’s T.J. Creamer, and Soichi Noguchi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. They arrived aboard their Soyuz TMA-17 spacecraft on Dec 22 as Santas helpers bearing Christmas gifts.
The five man crew was reduced to three following the recent departure of Jeff Williams (NASA) and flight engineer Max Suraev (Russia) on March 17 who returned safely to Earth aboard the Soyuz TMA 16 capsule.Less than 10 minutes after launch, the Soyuz reached orbit and its antennas and solar arrays were deployed. The crew arrives at the ISS on Easter Sunday April 4, orbiting some 200 miles above Earth. They will dock at the Poisk module. It was from this historic launch pad that Soviet Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin blasted into space in 1961 on mankind’s first manned space flight. The Soyuz crew capsule has been in use by Russia since 1967.