CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — An American Marine Top Gun test pilot, a Russian biochemist, and an Italian Special Forces parachutist lifted off on Friday a top a Russian Soyuz rocket beginning a voyage to rendezvous and dock with International Space Station.
Nearly six hours later, the crew of three successfully docked to the Russian Rasvet module on the Earth facing side of the space station at 5:54 p.m. EDT — seven minutes earlier than planned.
NASA astronaut Randy J. Bresnik, Russian Soyuz commander Sergey Ryazanskiy, and Europe’s Paolo Nespoli, all three space veterans, will be busy with a multitude of science experiments; the arrival and undocking of several unmanned cargo crafts; and spacewalking as they prepare the orbital outpost for new hardware.
Launched from the historic launch site at Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 11:41 a.m. EDT (9:41 p.m. local), Friday’s lift-off occurred from the same pad Russia’s Sputnik 1 launched from sixty years ago this October. That successful satellite launch in 1957 heralded the dawn of the space age.
As the Soyuz soared skyward into the darkening skies of sunset, a 400-foot golden flame pushed the rocket higher as it traveled eastward. Nearly nine minutes later, a strong jolt was felt by the crew as their Soyuz spacecraft separated from the rocket’s third stage upon reaching orbit 125 miles above.
The two astronauts and one cosmonaut will join three current station crew members as they live and work aboard the orbiting laboratory until mid-December. Bresnik, Ryazanskiy, and Nespoli are scheduled to undock and land hours later in central Kazakhstan.
Bresnik, a veteran on one previous space flight to the station, is poised to become the first United States Marine to command the International Space Station in September. During his career in the Marines, Bresnik — whose pilot call sign was “Komrade” — learned to pilot the F/A-18 Hornet and Super Hornet jets. He even graduated from Naval Fighter Weapons School, also known as Top Gun. Today, he has logged over 6,050 hours in 81 types of both military and civilian aircraft.
“The ‘Komrade’ was my fighter pilot call sign from back in the early ’90’s when I started flying F-18’s,” Bresnik said during a training break from the Johnson Space Center. “Typically you get a call sign from something to do with your name or something you do that’s stupid. I didn’t do anything stupid enough when I got to the F-18’s, so they said ‘Bresnik, hmmm’, then some more experienced guy said, ‘Hmmm, Bresnik. Sounds like Brezhnev. OK, Komrade Brezhnev’.”
Bresnik’s first voyage to the station gave the former Marine a new perspective of life in Earth orbit.
“Space is such a unique experience to where you’re seeing the curvature of the Earth everytime you look out the window, and you’re feeling things in your body you’ve never felt before in zero gravity,” Bresnik explained. “(Zero G) is an assault on the senses I think — we all agree — the first time you do it.”
As Bresnik and his crew work 255 miles above the planet, they will use the lack of gravity as the foundation for nearly 125 science and engineering experiments currently operating or will begin running soon in the space laboratories throughout the station. Even the crew members themselves will serve as a test platform as to how gravity effects the human body during long term spaceflight.
“The neat part about the science going on on the space station, we’ve been up there for sixteen years continuously manning the space station,” Bresnik added. “Over 2300 experiments that have gone on during that time frame and it doesn’t matter what crew is there, the science keeps going.”
(Charles A. Atkeison reports on aerospace and technology. Follow his updates on social media via @Military_Flight.)