Scientists and space enthusiasts around the world eagerly and cautiously watched as space travelers from the United States, Japan and Russia successfully docked with the International Space Station on Thursday. Veteran Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, rookie NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren and Japan’s Kimiya Yui blasted off from the Russian cosmodrome in Kazakhstan aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket at 5:02 p.m. Wednesday night. Less than six hours later, the crew happily arrived at the International Space Station to begin a five-month mission aboard the $100 billion laboratory. The space station flies about 250 miles above Earth and hosts astronauts from several different countries. The successful launch comes after a two-month delay after a launch of a similar Soyuz rocket failed.
The failed April launch stranded a three ton cargo ship in an orbit too low to reach the space station. Nine days later, the capsule fell back into Earth’s atmosphere and was incinerated. A crew scheduled to leave the space station was forced to stay on board for an extra month due to the failed launch. Despite the earlier troubles, the Soyuz rocket returned to flight on July 3rd and successfully launched a replacement cargo load to the space station.
Kononenko, Lindgren and Yui join the space station’s skeleton crew of cosmonauts Gennady Padalk, Mikhail Kornienko and NASA astronaut Scott Kelly. Kornienko and Kelly are participating in the space station’s first year-long mission.
The Russian space program remains an incredible source of national pride despite the setbacks it has suffered over the past few years. Launching the first Sputnik satellite in 1957 and, of course, sending the first man into space in 1961 are among the major accomplishments of Russia’s space program. The Soyuz rocket used for the launch is used for both unmanned and manned flights and dates back to the Cold War.
The cost of sending the world’s astronauts aboard Russian Soyuz spaceships cost $70 million per seat.