The International Space Station is back to a six-person crew after the second successful express flight of a Soyuz spacecraft. Roscosmos commander Fyodor Yurchikhin, NASA flight engineer Karen Nyberg and ESA flight engineer Luca Parmitano lifted off from Baikonur, Kazakhstan at 4:31 p.m. EDT (20:31 UTC) and docked with the ISS at 10:10 p.m. That’s less than a six-hour flight – about the same amount of time it takes a commercial airplane to fly from New York City to Los Angeles.
NASA / Bill Ingalls
Liftoff of Soyuz TMA-09M
Soyuz TMA-09M lifts off from Baikonur, Kazakhstan with Roscosmos commander Fyodor Yurchikhin, NASA flight engineer Karen Nyberg and ESA flight engineer Luca Parmitano.
The quick trip is possible thanks to the Soyuz TMA-M series spacecraft, which made its debut in 2010. The M series has a digital computer with the processing power necessary to compress the spacecraft’s engine burn schedule, which normally takes place over the course of two days. Roscosmos tested the express route three times with Progress supply spacecraft before debuting it for humans on March 28, when current crewmembers Alexander Misurkin, Pavel Vinogradov and Chris Cassidy travelled to the station on Soyuz TMA-08M.
Of the three new station occupants, Cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin has the most space experience. Expedition 36 is Yurchikhin’s fourth spaceflight. He flew on STS-112 (Atlantis) in 2002, Expedition 15 in 2007, and Expedition 24/25 in 2010. For Karen Nyberg, this is flight number two—she was aboard STS-124 (Discovery) in 2008. Luca Parmitano is a rookie—the Italian Air Force major was selected as an ESA astronaut since 2011.
NASA / Bill Ingalls
Thumbs up for Expedition 36
Expedition 36/37 crew members Karen Nyberg (left), Fyodor Yurchikhin (center) and Luca Parmitano wrap up a press conference from behind quarantine glass in the Cosmonaut Hotel.
You can follow Nyberg and Parmitano on Twitter. I pulled a few of my favorite tweets from their accounts and posted them below. For context: Buran was the Soviet Union’s answer to the American space shuttle, and Alexey Leonov was the first human to walk in space.