A Soyuz rocket provided a little heat to frosty Kazakhstan, sending three new international crew members to the International Space Station. NASA Flight Engineer Don Pettit, Russian Soyuz Commander Oleg Kononenko and European Space Agency Flight Engineer Andre Kuipers of the Netherlands launched aboard their Soyuz TMA-03M craft at 13:16 UTC on Dec. 21 (8:16 a.m. EST, 7:16 p.m. local time), from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
Pettit, Kononenko and Kuipers are scheduled to dock to the Rassvet module of the station at about 13:22 UTC ( 8:22 a.m.) Friday, Dec. 23. They will receive a holiday welcome from station the crew already aboard, Commander Dan Burbank and Flight Engineers Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin.
The combined crews of Expedition 30 will stay on board approximately six months; Burbank, Shkaplerov and Ivanishin are scheduled to return to Earth in March, and Pettit, Kononenko and Kuipers will return home in May.
One of the highlights of their expedition will be the arrival of a commercial cargo capsule built by Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX. The launch of the first commercial spacecraft to berth with the ISS is scheduled for Feb. 7, 2012.
The crew will also continue scientific research and the Russian crew will do spacewalk to continue external assembly and maintenance of the station.
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During the next two days, the spacecraft will orbit Earth 35 times, performing three major engine burns as its orbit is adjusted for docking with ISS.
More info: ESA