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Space Station 20th: Expedition 1 Crew Launches to the International Space Station!

The years of training behind them, the Expedition 1 crew of Commander William M. Shepherd of NASA, Flight Engineer and Soyuz Commander Yuri P. Gidzenko of Roscosmos, and Flight Engineer Sergei K. Krikalev of Roscosmos prepared to make history. Their launch on Oct. 31, 2000, from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan began 20 years and counting of permanent human presence in low-Earth orbit. Two days later, they docked with the International Space Station (ISS) to begin uninterrupted operations leading to the establishment of the world-class laboratory in space.

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Left: Sergei K. Krikalev, left, William M. Shepherd, and Yuri P. Gidzenko, the first crew
to occupy the International Space Station. Right: The Expedition 1 crew patch.

During a Jan. 30, 1996, press conference in Washington, D.C., United States Vice President Albert A. “Al” Gore and Russian Prime Minister Viktor S. Chernomyrdin announced the assignment of Shepherd and Krikalev to the Expedition 1 crew. Russia later named Gidzenko as the third crew member.  At the time of the announcements, their launch was expected to occur in mid-1998, but delays in preparing space station elements for their flights delayed that event by more than two years. During the four years of preparation, Shepherd, Gidzenko, and Krikalev’s training alternated between NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston and the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City outside of Moscow. Occasional visits to other sites, such as Munich for training on a science experiment and other space facilities in Russia and the United States, rounded out their training. The crew arrived at the Baikonur Cosmodrome on Oct. 26, 2000, for final launch preparations. Three days later, workers rolled their spacecraft and rocket to Launch Pad 1, known as Gagarin’s Start because it was the site from where Yuri A. Gagarin, the first man in space, launched on April 12, 1961.

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Left: On launch morning, Yuri P. Gidzenko, left, Sergei K. Krikalev, and William M. Shepherd receive the traditional pre-launch blessing from Russian Orthodox priest Father Sergei at the Cosmonaut Hotel in Baikonur. Right: Dressed in their Sokol spacesuits, Shepherd, seated left, Gidzenko, and Krikalev express their readiness for launch as their backups Kenneth D. Bowersox, left standing, Vladimir N. Dezhurov, and Mikhail V. Tyurin look on.
Photo credits: NASA/Bill Ingalls

On launch morning, in the crew quarters at the Cosmonaut Hotel in Baikonur, the crew underwent brief medical exams and received the traditional prelaunch blessing from Russian Orthodox priest Father Sergei. They boarded a bus for the Baikonur Cosmodrome’s Building 254 where they donned their Sokol launch and entry suits. Technicians assisted them in verifying the pressure integrity of their suits. Through a glass partition, they addressed an assembled crowd of American and Russian space officials and members of the press. Outside the building, Gidzenko reported to the Chairman of the State Commission on the crew’s readiness to undertake the mission. They then boarded the bus to the launch pad.

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Left: The Expedition 1 crew of Sergei K. Krikalev, left, Yuri P. Gidzenko, and William M. Shepherd talk to assembled managers and reporters in the Baikonur Cosmodrome’s Building 254. Right: Krikalev, left, Gidzenko, and Shepherd upon arrival at Launch Pad 1.
Photo credits: NASA/Bill Ingalls.

At the pad, a crowd of about 400 people greeted Shepherd, Gidzenko, and Krikalev as they made their way to the fully fueled rocket. They paused on the stairs leading to the elevator and waved to the crowd and the photographers. Then they entered the elevator, rode to the top of the rocket, and one by one climbed aboard their Soyuz TM31 spacecraft. Entering through the orbital compartment, they dropped into the descent module and took their seats, Krikalev in the left-hand seat, Shepherd in the right, and finally Gidzenko into the Soyuz commander’s middle seat. For the next two hours, they waited out the countdown that proceeded without incident.

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Left: Yuri P. Gidzenko, bottom, William M. Shepherd, and Sergei K. Krikalev at the launch pad preparing to take the elevator up to their Soyuz TM31 spacecraft. Right: Liftoff of the Soyuz TM31 spacecraft carrying Shepherd, Gidzenko, and Krikalev on their historic journey to the International Space Station.
Photo credits: NASA/Bill Ingalls

At 12:53 p.m. local time at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, the Soyuz rocket’s main engines came to life, and the rocket began to rise on a pillar of flame. Briefly disappearing into the fog, the rocket reappeared as it streaked skyward. At just under two minutes into the flight, the rocket’s four strap-on boosters separated as the core stage continued to propel the spacecraft. Onboard video showed the three crew members in their seats, with Shepherd waving and pumping his fists. The launch escape system and the payload shroud jettisoned next, letting sunlight stream into the capsule. Less than five minutes after launch, the core stage was jettisoned, and the rocket’s third stage took over getting the spacecraft into orbit. Nine minutes into the flight, the third stage shut down and the spacecraft separated to begin its independent flight. The Expedition 1 crew was in orbit. Within minutes, the spacecraft deployed all its antennas and the two power-generating solar arrays. After 90 minutes, the crew members opened the hatch from the cramped descent module and floated into the roomier orbital compartment where they were able to remove their spacesuits. They spent the next two days aboard the Soyuz spacecraft as they completed maneuvers to set up for the rendezvous and docking with the ISS on Nov. 2.

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Left: Still image from downlink video of Yuri P. Gideznko, left, and Sergei K. Krikalev inside their Soyuz TM31 spacecraft during the ascent to orbit. Right: Still image from downlink video of William M. Shepherd and Yuri P. Gidzenko during the ascent to orbit.

To be continued…