Expedition 31 Crew Launches to Station
NASA astronaut Joe Acaba and Russian cosmonauts Gennady Padalka and Sergei Revin launched aboard a Soyuz spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 11:01 p.m. EDT on Monday (9:01 a.m. Tuesday, Kazakhstan time), beginning a two-day flight to the International Space Station.
› View video of launch
Less than 10 minutes after launch their Soyuz TMA-04M spacecraft reached orbit, and its antennas and solar arrays deployed.
The trio will dock to the station’s Poisk Mini-Research Module at 12:38 a.m. Thursday, bringing the Expedition 31 crew to its full six-member complement. Acaba, Revin and Padalka will join the current station residents, Commander Oleg Kononenko and Flight Engineers Don Pettit and Andre Kuipers, and begin a four-month tour of duty aboard the orbiting complex.
Kononenko, Pettit and Kuipers, who arrived Dec. 23 aboard their Soyuz TMA-03M spacecraft, will return home on July 1, marking the start of Expedition 32 under the command of Padalka. About two weeks afterward, NASA astronaut Suni Williams, Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Aki Hoshide will arrive at the orbiting complex to round out the Expedition 32 crew.
Acaba previously visited the station in March 2009 as a mission specialist for the STS-119 crew aboard space shuttle Discovery. The crew delivered the final set of solar array wings and truss element to complete the station’s electricity-generating system. Acaba accumulated 12 hours, 57 minutes of spacewalk time during two excursions outside the station during STS-119.
This will mark Padalka’s fourth long-duration spaceflight and his third aboard the station. He previously completed 198 days in space aboard Mir in February 1999 and served as station commander for Expedition 9 in 2004 and Expedition 19/20 in 2009.
Revin is making his first trip into space.
Also on board with the crew was a small "Smokey Bear" plush toy serving as the traditional Soyuz "talisman." Smokey Bear is the U.S.
national symbol for wildfire prevention. Prior to the flight, Acaba explained he proposed flying Smokey Bear in an effort to raise
awareness of human-caused wildfires. Acaba, an avid outdoorsman, holds two degrees in geology and served as an environmental education awareness promoter while in the U.S. Peace Corps.