Russian Commander Yuri Gidzenko, Flight Engineer Roberto Vittori of the European Space Agency and South African businessman Mark Shuttleworth rocketed away from the Central Asian launch site at 1:26:38 a.m. Central time (626:38 GMT) in their Soyuz TM-34 craft. Less than nine minutes later, with the Soyuz solar arrays and navigational antennas successfully deployed, they had reached orbit to begin a two-day chase to reach the ISS early Saturday. At the time of launch, the ISS was flying over Iraq at an altitude of 244 statute miles. The Expedition Four crew on board the station had just awakened at the time the Soyuz began its journey.
Gidzenko, who is making his third flight into space, is the first former resident of the ISS to return to the complex, having been a member of the Expedition One crew, the first crew to live aboard the station. Gidzenko first arrived at the ISS in November 2000. Vittori, who is a professional astronaut, is making his first spaceflight, traveling to the ISS under a contract between the Italian Space Agency and the Russian Aviation and Space Agency. Shuttleworth is a South African Internet entrepreneur flying under contract with the Russian Aviation and Space Agency as well on his first mission.
The three crewmembers will dock to the Zarya module of the ISS on Saturday at 2:57 a.m. Central time (757 GMT). That docking port was freed up last Saturday when Expedition Four Commander Yury Onufrienko and Flight Engineers Carl Walz and Dan Bursch relocated the Soyuz vehicle currently at the ISS from Zarya to the Pirs Docking Compartment.
Gidzenko, Vittori and Shuttleworth will spend almost eight days on the station, conducting experiments and educational activities. They will depart the ISS on the evening of May 4, U.S. time, in the Soyuz currently docked to the station, and will land a few hours later on the Kazakh steppes.
All systems aboard the ISS continue to function well as the station orbits at an average altitude of about 245 statute miles.