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.
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.
And finally, here's one more gratuitous Soyuz photograph from an adjacent floodlight tower: