A Russian Soyuz launch vehicle has launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 6:49am CDT, carrying NASA astronaut Michael Barratt, Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, and spaceflight participant and U.S. software engineer Charles Simonyi.
The trio were launched in the storied Soyuz TMA that consists of Orbital Module, a Descent Module and an Instrumentation/Propulsion Module, lofted into orbit by a three stage Soyuz-FG.
Launch was approved by the acting Head of the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center Yu.P.Gidzenko and the President and General Designer of the S.P.Korolev RSC Energia V.A.Lopotavia via Russian State Commission.
Docking with the ISS is scheduled for 8:14 a.m. Saturday, March 28, with Padalka serving as commander of Expeditions 19 and 20 aboard the station. Barratt will serve as a flight engineer for those two missions.
Padalka and Barratt will join with Koichi Wakata of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, following his arrival on March 17 onboard Discovery as part of STS-119.
Dr. Simonyi, flying to the station under a commercial agreement with the Russian Federal Space Agency, previously visited the complex in April 2007. He is the first spaceflight participant to make a second flight to the station and will spend 10 days aboard.
He is also making history by becoming the first private explorer to complete a second mission to space, after previously flying to the ISS in spring 2007 as Space Adventures’ fifth orbital client.
“I feel my efforts are helping to open the space frontier to private travel. Just like all industries, it takes commitment and investment from a few key organizations and customers in order to open it to a larger market,” noted Dr Simonyi.
“I’m honored to return to the ISS and excited to conduct scientific experiments for the European Space Agency and for other national space organizations. I also hope my mission inspires young people all over the world to pursue science and engineering careers.”
Simonyi will return to Earth April 7 with Expedition 18 Commander Michael Fincke and Flight Engineer Yury Lonchakov, who have been on the station since October 2008.