Russian "taxi crew" Commander Sergei Zalyotin, European Space Agency Flight Engineer Frank DeWinne from Belgium and Russian Flight Engineer Yuri Lonchakov lifted off in dense fog in the new Soyuz TMA-1 vehicle at 9:11 p.m. Central time (311 GMT Oct. 30). About nine minutes later, the new Soyuz had reached orbit and its solar panels and navigational antennas had deployed.
The new Soyuz is designed to accommodate larger or smaller crewmembers, and is equipped with upgraded computers, a new cockpit control panel and improved avionics. Zalyotin, who commanded the last mission to the Mir Space Station in 2000, DeWinne, a first-time flier, and Lonchakov, who flew on the shuttle Endeavour to deliver the Canadarm2 robotic arm to the ISS in 2001, are scheduled to dock their Soyuz vehicle to the station's Pirs Docking Compartment Thursday night around 11 p.m. CST (500 GMT Nov. 1) for the start of eight days of joint operations. Hatches between the Soyuz and the ISS are scheduled to swing open around 12:40 a.m. CST Friday (640 GMT).
The Expedition 5 crewmembers - Commander Valery Korzun, NASA ISS Science Officer Peggy Whitson and Flight Engineer Sergei Treschev - were asleep at the time of the Soyuz launch. When they are awakened, they will begin their 147th day in space, the 145th day aboard the ISS.
After arriving at the station, Zalyotin, DeWinne and Lonchakov will join their Expedition resident colleagues in performing a variety of scientific experiments, many of them furnished under a commercial contract between the European Space Agency and the Russian Aviation and Space Agency on behalf of DeWinne. The taxi trio is scheduled to board the Soyuz TM-34 return craft that has been linked to the ISS since April, and undock on Nov. 9 for a landing on the steppes of Kazakhstan.
A fresh Soyuz is delivered to the ISS every six months to provide an assured return capability for station residents in the unlikely event a problem would force them to come home prematurely.