WRITTEN STORY BY CBS NEWS AND PERMITTED USER
A Russian cosmonaut and his NASA co-pilot, five months after launching a dramatic launch launch last October, have finally come into orbit Thursday and, along with a NASA astronaut who made his first flight, docked six hours later with the International Space Station to bring back the crew of the laboratory to six.
Under a cloudy sky, the Soyuz booster roared to life and moved away from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 3:14:08 pm EDT (12:14 am Friday local time), roughly at the time which the Earth's rotation carried the springboard – the same one used by Yuri Gagarin at the dawn of the Space Age – in the plane of the station's orbit.
Using a fast – the rendezvous procedure of the track, the commander of the Soyuz MS-12 / 58S Alexey Ovchinin, the flight engineer of the left seat Tyler "Nick" Hague and the astronaut Christina Koch reached the laboratory after a chase of four orbits, moving for a Rassvet Module facing the Earth at 9:01 pm
After waiting for the residual movement to be attenuated, hooks and latches committed themselves to drag the ship for a so-called "hard mate" with the docking door. It was expected that the hatches would be opened about two hours later, after the tests to verify the watertightness and to equalize the pressure between the two spacecraft.
Waiting for the arrival of the new crew were the commander of the station Oleg Kononenko, the Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques and the flight of NASA engineer Anne McClain. They were thrown into the outpost on December 3 and had the station for themselves since December 19 when a previous Soyuz crew returned to Earth.
Normally the station is run by a crew of six, but the crew rotation program was launched on 11 October a Soyuz rocket carrying Ovchinin and Hague suffered a catastrophic disaster two minutes after the launch when one of the four strap-on boosters failed to separate cleanly from the central core of the rocket.
The Soyuz system interrupted automatically, accelerating the capsule of the crew away from the failed rocket. Ovchinin and Hague reached an altitude of just over 50 miles before landing safely about 250 miles from the launch site.
The problem with the normally reliable Soyuz repeater was quickly corrected, paving the way for Kononenko, Saint-Jacques and McClain to explode on December 3, but downstream flights had to be rescheduled.
The Soyuz MS-12 / 58S spacecraft launched Thursday was supposed to take off in April with commander Oleg Skripochka, host cosmonaut of the United Arab Emirates and Koch, who was training as a flight board or co-pilot engineer. But in the wake of the abortion, the flight was moved upward and Ovchinin and Hague were assigned to join Koch with the Hague assuming the role of copilot.
In a pre-launch interview, Koch, an electrical engineer, climber and veteran Antarctic researcher, said he had no qualms about tying up with a Soyuz spacecraft and launching himself into space.
"It's an incredible machine," he said. "The fact that its reliability is so high is something to be held in high regard, and it was a huge privilege to train on a spacecraft that has such an excellent record. It was an honor. It's a good spacecraft."
The six-member crew faces an unusually challenging first week along with three spacewalks scheduled towards the end of the month to install new solar accumulator batteries and perform other upgrades and maintenance. Hague and McClain will carry out the first battery replacement excursion on March 22 with McClain and Koch expected to follow the example seven days later. The April 8th Aja and Saint-Jacques will conduct the third EVA.
Cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya was the first woman to walk in space in 1984. Eleven American women followed in her footsteps, starting with the astronaut Kathryn Sullivan during a shuttle flight into the 39; October 1984. McClain and Koch would have been the thirteenth and fourteenth floating off a spaceship and the first space exploration team of all females.
NASA had planned the installation of the new solar panel batteries during the two walks last fall, but the launch of the Japanese cargo ship HTV-7 bringing them to orbit was delayed and the EVAs they were postponed until after the expected arrival of the Hague last October. After the interruption of the launch, the battery installation has been postponed again.
Along with space walks, the station crew will carry out a series of scientific and routine maintenance research and will download six unmanned cargo ships: two Russian Progress cargo ships, two SpaceX Dragon supply ships, a Northrup cargo capsule Grumman Cygnus and a Japanese HTV.
Kononenko, Saint-Jacques and McClain should return to Earth on June 25 to conclude a 203-day mission. Ovchinin, Hague and Koch will have the station for themselves between then and July 6 when three new members of the crew arrive: the commander of the Soyuz MS-13 / 59S Alexander Skvortsov, the NASA astronaut Drew Morgan and the Italian Luca Parmitano, a veteran astronaut of the European Space Agency.
That flight was the last Russian mission to transport US astronauts as NASA transitions to commercial merchant ships built by SpaceX and Boeing. SpaceX launched its Crew Dragon spacecraft on an unmanned test flight on March 2nd and could be ready to launch the first astronauts in the midday period.
Hague and Koch trained for the crew of Dragon and Boeing Starliner, the milestones of the Aja are "a real bargain" for NASA, which allows the US space agency to end its only dependence on the Russian Soyuz for transport to and from the space station.
But NASA is protecting its bets. The agency is buying two more Soyuz seats, one for the autumn and the other next spring, to make sure that US astronauts can reach the station if the commercial crew program suffers major delays.
Ovchinin, Hague and Koch are scheduled to return to Earth on October 3rd to conclude a 204-day mission.