A Soyuz TMA-14M carrying cosmonaut Aleksandr Samokutyayev, the first female cosmonaut Yelena Serova and astronaut Barry E. Wilmore lifted off from Baikonur Cosmodrome at 4:25pm EDT to begin a four orbit, six hour journey to the International Space Station to complete the Expedition 41 crew complement.
Following a smooth ride to orbit the spacecraft transitioned to orbital operations before beginning the accelerated approach plan that been adopted by the Russian Federal Space Agency for trips to the station. This reduces the amount of time the crew spends in the cramped environment of the Soyuz spacecraft, before the new plan was adopted it would typically take two days before the crew would be aboard the station.
Docking is scheduled at 10:15pm EDT today and will be shown live on NASA TV, with hatch opening scheduled for a couple of hours later once all the leak tests have been completed.
Below are screen grabs of the launch from NASA TV.
China are on the verge of surpassing the US for second place in the number of spacecraft launched in a single year. Last year we were tied for second place and so far this year have one more mission than China but with no more planned US launches this year and at least one more for China could be tied again or risk losing out to them.
And the picture looks bleak until the commercial launchers come online. SpaceX and Orbital are still in the testing phase and while both plan to be online with cargo flights next year to ISS there is no guarantee that this will happen. The next demo flight for SpaceX has been delayed a number of times so far while SpaceX and NASA make sure everything is in place for the mission. While we can understand the need to ensure the spacecraft will not pose a threat to the station it also makes us more reliant on Russia until these craft are up and running.
The crew situation is even worse, until SLS or Commercial Crew are online which at the moment looks to be 3-4 years away we are completely dependent on Russia to get to ISS and in the mean time China and making huge progress on there crew missions. With the successful completion of the Shenzhou 8 mission which included two dockings to the Tiangong 1 space station, they are now planning a crewed mission to the station and have already selected the crew.
As I said a couple of weeks ago after the new NASA budget was announced we are cutting funding for commercial space and therefore risk falling further behind. Having to pay Russia $63m per seat to get to the space station that we spend billions of dollars building is short sighted and the continued under-spending on commercial space is not going to rectify this any time soon.