The Soyuz TMA-18M spacecraft carrying the crew of Aidyn Aimbetov of Kazakhstan, Sergei Volkov of Russia and Andreas Mogensen of Denmark blasts off from the launch pad at the Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, September 2, 2015. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov
The rocket lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, a Russian launch facility in Kazakhstan, on schedule at 10:37 a.m. (0437 GMT), with “everything going flawlessly,” according to a commentator on NASA television. It was the 500th launch of both manned and unmanned spacecraft from the launch pad used in 1961 by Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, the commentator said. Andreas Mogensen is the first Dane in space. Russia’s Sergei Volkov is following in the footsteps of his father, who 24 years ago launched into space with the first astronaut from Kazakhstan. The Kazakh on the current mission, Aidyn Aimbetov, got his seat when British singer Sarah Brightman pulled out.
The new three-man crew will arrive at the orbiting outpost on Friday after a two-day flight through space. For the past two years, the crews have taken a more direct, six-hour flight, but the Russian Federal Space Agency decided last week to revert to the traditional route, citing security concerns after the International Space Station had to adjust its orbit to dodge space junk.
The arrival of Volkov, Aimbetov and Mogensen will bring the number on board the station to nine for the first time since November 2013. The Kazakh and Dane are scheduled to return to Earth on Sept. 12 with Russian Gennady Padalka, the current station commander.
Command will then be passed to NASA’s Scott Kelly, who along with Mikhail Kornienko of Russia is spending a full year on the station to study the effects of long space travel in preparation for a possible future trip to Mars.