Astronauts safely on way to ISS

Late last night, three astronauts blasted off for the International Space Station on a Soyuz TMA-04M, after several weeks of delay.

NASA flight engineer Joseph Acaba, Russian Soyuz commander Gennady Padalka and flight engineer Sergei Revin lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 10:01 pm CDT, and are scheduled to dock late on Wednesday.

They will join Expedition 31 commander Oleg Kononenko of the Russian Federal Space Agency and flight engineers Don Pettit of NASA and André Kuipers of the European Space Agency, who have been aboard the orbiting laboratory since just before Christmas.

They’ll work together for about two months, during which they’ll see the arrival of the first commercial craft to visit the station, the delayed Dragon cargo ship operated by SpaceX. It’s currently scheduled for launch this Saturday.

Pettit, Kononeko and Kuipers are scheduled to return to Earth on July 1, while Acaba, Padalka and Revin will return home in mid-September.

The flight is the first trip to space for Revin – and for a plush ‘Smokey Bear’ toy brought along by Acaba to highlight the dangers of forest fires.

Acaba himself previously visited the station in March 2009 as a mission specialist for the STS-119 crew aboard space shuttle Discovery, when he totted up 12 hours, 57 minutes of spacewalk time.

The trip is Padalka’s fourth long-duration spaceflight and his third to the station. He served 198 days in space aboard Mir in February 1999, and was station commander for Expedition 9 in 2004 and Expedition 19/20 in 2009.