UPDATE: The Soyuz MS-12 craft successfully docked to the space station at 9:01 p.m. EDT.
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Two Americans and their Russian spacecraft commander launched a top a Soyuz rocket on Thursday to begin a four-orbit voyage to catch-up with and dock to the International Space Station.
NASA astronauts Nick Hague and Christina Koch, and cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin will spend six-months living and working aboard the orbiting laboratory 255 miles up. Once the crew docks on Thursday evening, the station will return to a full compliment of six crew members.
A Russian Soyuz FG rocket lifted-off on March 14 — Pi Day — at 3:14:08 p.m. EDT (12:14 a.m. on Friday, local time) from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The crew’s Soyuz MS-12 spacecraft is scheduled to dock at 9:06 p.m. to the space station’s Rassvet module. (NASA-TV will air these events live.)
Ninety-minutes later, the hatches between the two spacecraft will open beginning the 59th crew expedition aboard the outpost. The crew’s arrival will hold a special meaning for two of its crew members.
Thursday’s launch occured exactly five months following Hague and Ovchinin’s dramatic launch abort. Last October, their Soyuz rocket’s first stage collided with the second stage at separation causing the bottom of the second stage to break apart.
Their Soyuz craft immediately ejected from the rocket’s upper stage and began a ballistic flight which saw G-forces reach nearly eight times that of Earth’s gravity. The duo landed safely nearly 20 minutes after launch about 246 miles east of Baikonur.
“Psychological preparation is part of our overall preparation for any flight,” Nick Hague told reporters on February 21. “During the preparation for the (October) flight, we also worked with psychologists. We have a great team of psychologists working at NASA.”
Both Hague and Ovchinin feel great and are anxious to return to flight. “One of the most interesting works for me will be a spacewalk,” Ovchinin said. “We have quite a lot of tasks that we have to perform in the process of extravehicular activity.”
This Russian launch will be one of the last to fly Americans on board a Soyuz. Three commercial companies are set to launch their crew-rated spacecraft into space this year.
In July, commercial rocket company SpaceX plans to launch two Americans from the Kennedy Space Center to fly up to and dock with the space station. This launch — known as Crew Dragon Demo-2 — will mark the first crewed launch from the United States into Earth orbit in eight years.
(Charles A Atkeison reports on aerospace and technology. Follow his updates via social media @Military_Flight.)