Soyuz TMA-11 launches carrying Expedition 16

NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson, Soyuz commander Yuri Malenchenko and Malaysian physician Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor are on their way to the International Space Station (ISS) via their Soyuz TMA-11 launch vehicle Wednesday morning.

The launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome was successful at 9:22am Eastern time. NASASpaceflight.com is covering the launch as a live event (click read more for links).

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The new crew will mark the journey of the first female commander of the ISS, with Whitson and her two companions set for docking on Friday, where they will be greeted by the Expedition 15 crewmembers – Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin and Flight Engineer Oleg Kotov – they will be replacing.

NASA astronaut Clay Anderson will have an overlapped stay on the ISS, until his replacement Dan Tani arrives on shuttle Discovery during this month’s STS-120.

 
Whitson is no stranger to the ISS, after spending six months aboard as a member of Expedition 5. Malenchenko was commander of Expedition 7, has also visited the old Russian station Mir, and has one shuttle flight under his belt.
 
Preparations for the launch have proceeded smoothly, with the Soyuz launch vehicle fueled and ready for lift-off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome.
 
‘A meeting of the State Commission was held, with GCTC (Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center) Director V.V. Tsibliev reporting about the crew readiness for the planned mission. Also reporting on the readiness of the Soyuz-FG launch vehicle and TMA-11 spacecraft was RSC-Energia President and General Designer V.A. Lopota,’ noted the latest ISS On Orbit Status report.
 
‘The State Commission approved the prime and backup crews for the 15S mission and the ISS-16 increment and also adopted a decision to continue preparation of the Soyuz-FG fueling and launch at the set time tomorrow morning, at 9:22am EDT (17:22 o’clock Moscow time).’
 
Alongside Whitson and Malenchenko will be Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor – who will spend around nine days on board the ISS, before returning with Yurchikhin and Kotov on Soyuz TMA-10.
 
Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor is flying as a guest of the Russian government, and will be the first Malaysian - or Angkasawan Negara – to fly in space.
 
‘I have heard the announcement made by the Prime Minister and was honored to be given the responsibility to be the first Angkasawan Negara. I know it is a big huge responsibility and I promise not to let Malaysians down.

‘Right from the beginning of this programme I have always wanted to contribute to the country and I believe this mission will help me accomplish them. I thank all Malaysians from every generation, every race and every religion, to all the 27 million (probably more by now) Malaysian souls, I vow to make Malaysia proud.

 
‘In return I need all of you to be united and strongly believe in this programme. That’s what keeps me going in the first place. To a great nation & to a great future that lies within grasp! Thank you for all your never-ending wishes and prayers.’

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