The Soyuz TMA-07M Santa Sleigh docks with ISS

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The Russian Soyuz TMA-07M spacecraft – known by its NASA designation as 33S – followed up its launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on Wednesday, by docking with the ISS two days later, delivering the three new crewmembers to the orbital outpost for a festive welcome by their crewmates already aboard the station.

Soyuz TMA-07M crew:

Soyuz TMA-07M is crewed by an all-veteran team of spaceflyers, with Russian cosmonaut Roman Romanenko being the Soyuz commander for his second time in space.

Romanenko, a 41 year old Major in the Russian Air Force, previously flew on the Expedition 20 and 21 missions from May to December 2009, which marked the first time that the ISS increased to six permanent crewmembers.

Soyuz CrewFor this flight , Romanenko will serve as Flight Engineer on Expeditions 34 and 35.

Also aboard Soyuz TMA-07M is NASA astronaut Dr. Tom Marshburn, a 51 year old former flight surgeon with an extensive medical background both inside and outside NASA.

While this will be his second spaceflight, having previously flown on STS-127 in July 2009 (where he briefly flew with Romanenko aboard the ISS), this mission will be his first flight in a Soyuz, and his first long-duration spaceflight.

The third crewmember aboard Soyuz TMA-07M is Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, a 52 year old former Colonel in the Canadian Air Force.

While Hadfield will be making his third spaceflight on this mission, having previously flown on STS-74 to the Mir space station in 1995, and STS-100 to the ISS in 2001, during which he performed spacewalks to help install the SSRMS “Canadarm2″, this too will be Hadfield’s first flight in a Soyuz, and first long-duration mission.

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It will also mark the first time in history that a Canadian astronaut takes command of the ISS, a duty Hadfield will assume on March 15, 2013.

Hadfield’s launch is eagerly anticipated by many Canadians, as his mission marks the first time in three years that a Canadian astronaut has been in space, as the last time a Canadian astronaut was in space was when Bob Thirsk returned to Earth aboard Soyuz TMA-15 on December 1, 2009 – a flight that was, coincidentally, also commanded by Roman Romanenko.

Officially, Hadfield’s flight is the last planned flight of a Canadian astronaut for the ISS program, as the CSA have now used up all of their allotted crew slots that were awarded to them under a past agreement on multi-national crew positions prior to the ISS’ previously planned end of life in 2016.

However, with ISS operations now officially extended to 2020, as agreed by all partner nations, including Canada, a new Canadian slot has been pencilled-in to the ISS crew assignments manifest for the 61S flight in December 2019, for a six-month stay on the ISS as part of the Expedition 62 and 63 crews, prior to an Earth return in June 2020, marking one of the last crews to depart the ISS before its planned end of life at the end of 2020 – as much as that date is likely to be extended.

While the above flight plan is very tentative, and does not take into account the commercial crew vehicles which would increase the ISS crew to seven crewmembers and could provide Canada with additional crew slots, it shows that the ISS program is planning to reward Canada with another crew slot for their extended participation in the ISS.

Such a future Canadian crew slot would likely be awarded to one of their two newest astronauts, Jeremy Hansen or David Saint-Jacques.

Soyuz TMA-07M flight schedule:

Following orbital insertion, and deployment of all solar arrays, antennas and appendages, Soyuz TMA-07M began a two day rendezvous with the ISS, for a docking to the ISS at the Mini Research Module-1 (MRM-1) “Rassvet” Nadir port on Friday, 21 December, at 2:09 PM GMT.

“A Soyuz Sleigh has pulled in at Station,” noted NASA PAO Rob Navias.

The docking has boosted the ISS back up to six crewmembers for the first time since the November 19 departure of Soyuz TMA-05M.

Fast RNDZ Slide via L2On the next Soyuz to launch, which is Soyuz TMA-08M on March 28, 2013, this two-day rendezvous profile will be replaced with a new six-hour rendezvous profile, allowing crews to go from the launch pad to the ISS in less time than it takes to fly across the Atlantic Ocean.

This fast-rendezvous profile was successfully tested with Progresses M-16M and M-17M earlier in 2012, however Soyuz TMA-08M will mark the first time it is used on a crewed flight.

With Expedition 34 up at full strength, the remainder of 2012 will be spent doing routine scientific activities, and helping the new crewmembers to settle in to their new home and learn the ropes, in addition to some well-earned time off over the holiday period.

Looking ahead to 2013, the crew of Soyuz TMA-07M will have a very busy schedule. On February 10, Progress M-16M will undock from the ISS, followed on February 11 by the launch of Progress M-18M, for a docking to the ISS two days later on February 13. After that, March 1 will mark the third flight of SpaceX’s Dragon capsule to the ISS, with the CRS-2 mission scheduled to arrive at the orbital outpost on March 3.

Soyuz Image via L2On March 15, Soyuz TMA-06M will undock from the ISS and return to Earth, marking the beginning of Expedition 35, with Hadfield in command.

Three-crew ops will then continue until March 28, when Soyuz TMA-08M will make a same-day launch and docking to the ISS, boosting the crew back up to six, and making for an orbital reunion between Tom Marshburn and his former STS-127 crewmate, NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy.

April will be an extremely busy month on the ISS, with April 2 seeing SpaceX’s Dragon unberthed from the ISS and return to Earth, followed in the coming days by Russian EVA-32.

Following that, Progress M-17M will undock from the ISS on April 15, with Europe’s ATV-4 spacecraft launching soon after on April 18. April 23 will see Progress M-18M undock from the ISS, with Progress M-19M launching on April 24, for a docking to the ISS on April 26.

ATV-4 will then dock to the ISS on May 1, with Soyuz TMA-07M departing the ISS on May 14, which will mark the end of Expedition 35 and the beginning of Expedition 36.

(Images via L2 and NASA).

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