Spacecraft carrying Russian, American, Briton docks with space station
BAIKONUR, Kazakhstan (Reuters) – A Soyuz spacecraft successfully delivered a Russian, an American and a Briton to the International Space Station on Tuesday after blasting off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
The otherwise smooth journey ended with a slightly delayed docking at 1733 GMT as Russian commander Yuri Malenchenko aborted the automatic procedure and manually guided the spacecraft towards the station.
Alongside Malenchenko, a veteran of long-duration space flights who is on his fourth space mission, were NASA astronaut Tim Kopra and Briton Tim Peake, both former Apache military helicopter pilots.
Peake, 43, a former army major who is on a six-month mission for the European Space Agency (ESA), became the first astronaut representing the British government and wearing a Union Jack flag on his arm. The first Briton in space was Helen Sharman, who travelled on a Soviet spacecraft for eight days in 1991.
Peake smiled cheerfully and looked confident as he prepared to board the spacecraft earlier on Tuesday. He was seen off by his family after going through all the Baikonur pre-launch rituals, such as signing his hotel door and receiving a blessing from an Orthodox priest.
Most of these traditions, such as watching “White Sun of the Desert”, a 1970 Soviet action film, on the eve of a launch, date back to the early years of space exploration. Even the launch pad used for manned flights has remained the same since Yuri Gagarin’s first mission in 1961.
Peake’s mission, called Principia after Isaac Newton’s seminal work, includes a number of scientific experiments, such as testing the use of nitric oxide gas as a tool to monitor lung inflammation.
Malenchenko, Kopra and Peake are set to return to Earth on June 5 next year.
(Reporting by Shamil Zhumatov, additional repoting and writing by Olzhas Auyezov in Almaty; Editing by Dmitry Solovyov and Mark Trevelyan, editing by Larry King)