Astronaut trio blast off to space station with ... er, rearview mirror toy?
Dangling pink furry thing spotted in launch snap
Vid + pics The three latest additions to the International Space Station crew have blasted off successfully from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
Cosmonauts Alexey Ovchinin and Oleg Skripochka, along with US astronaut Jeff Williams, lifted off aboard the Soyuz TMA-20M rocket at 1428 PT (2128 UTC) and are now on their way to the ISS. The spacecraft is expected to dock with the ISS at 2011 PT (0311 UTC) so that the new crew can disembark.
The separation of the first core stage occurred as planned five minutes into the flight, and the crew capsule separated four minutes later. The spacecraft is now in orbit with its solar panels deployed and is matching courses with the ISS.
Those of us watching the launch were somewhat disappointed at the cloudy skies that blocked a clear view of the ascent, but then amused by the shot of the inside of the capsule where a stuffed toy was dangling from the roof of the capsule.
Small pink owl is the thing to have in space
For Williams, this should be a record-breaking trip. If the six-month trip goes as planned, he will overtake Scott Kelly's record of 520 days for the longest cumulative time spent in space by a US astronaut. On his return, Williams will have spent 534 days in orbit.
NASA is very keen to learn about how such a long time spent without gravity exerting its effects on the body would impact a person, since such information is going to be key to understanding the medical challenges of getting astronauts to Mars without them being so debilitated that they are dead or useless when they arrive.
The all-time record holder is, however, Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, who has spent a staggering 879 days in orbit. A Russian, Valeri Polyakov, holds the longevity record for a single flight, after he spent 437 days on the Mir space station. ®