International Crew Arrives at Space Station in Record Time

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NEW YORK — An international trio of astronauts became the newest residents of the international space station May 28 after a record-setting trip.

Five hours and 40 minutes after a successful Soyuz rocket launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin, NASA’s Karen Nyberg and Luca Parmitano of the European Space Agency docked their Soyuz spacecraft at the international space station at 10:10 p.m. EDT. The new crew will remain on the space station for the next six months.

“I’ve never felt better in my life,” Yurchikhin said just after the Soyuz docked at the station in record time while sailing high above the South Pacific. 

The same-day launch and docking was the second express flight to the international space station by an astronaut crew.

Unmanned cargo vessels have made this kind of trip many times before, but the one-day missions are a new method of flying for manned Soyuz capsules. Typically, it takes astronauts about two days to reach the space station, but this kind of flying requires the capsule to orbit the Earth only four times, shortening the amount of time the astronauts need to spend in the cramped spaceship.

The three newest space station residents joined NASA’s Chris Cassidy and Russian cosmonauts Alexandr Misurkin and Pavel Vinogradov, the first Soyuz crew to fly to the station using the expedited technique, to round out the Expedition 36 crew.

“[Your trip was] even faster than Pavel,” a member of Mission Control in Russia joked with Yurchikhin after docking. The Russian Soyuz commander beat Vinogradov’s time to the station by six minutes. 

Nyberg and Yurchikhin are veteran spacefliers. In total, Yurchikhin has spent more than a year in orbit while Nyberg flew for two weeks in 2008 on the Space Shuttle Discovery. Parmitano, meanwhile, is making his first trip into space. His expedition has been dubbed the “Volare” mission by European Space Agency officials.

“Time to go! Thanks for your support and best wishes, see you from Cupola,” Parmitano wrote on Twitter (@astro_luca) before launch, referring to the largest window on the space station.

Both Parmitano and Nyberg are active on social media. Before launching into orbit Nyberg started tagging her posts with the hashtag #simplejoysonearth to bring the experiences she had with her family to the world before leaving for the space station.

“Sun, birds, smell of grass & fresh air; nice walk w/ family along ‘Ave of Cosmonauts’ #simplejoysonearth,” Nyberg wrote on Twitter (@AstroKarenN) before launch. She plans to continue to use social media to share her life in orbit.

The new space station crew has a jam-packed mission ahead. Parmitano and Cassidy are scheduled to perform two spacewalks in July, and Misurkin and Yurchikhin will conduct three spacewalks during the course of their mission. It is also possible that the astronauts will get a chance to carry the Olympic torch onboard the orbiting laboratory.

Vinogradov, Misurkin and Cassidy are scheduled to fly back to Earth in September. Parmitano, Nyberg and Yurchikhin will remain on the station until November.