The Soyuz TMA-07M spacecraft blasts off from its launch pad
at the Baikonur cosmodrome. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov
A Russian Soyuz capsule carrying a multinational crew of
three has arrived at the International Space Station, setting
the stage for a Canadian for the first time to take command of
the orbital research base.
The spacecraft carrying Chris Hadfield from the Canadian
Space Agency, NASA's Tom Marshburn and Russian cosmonaut
Roman Romanenko blasted off from Kazakhstan's Biakonur
Cosmodrome on Wednesday and parked at the station's Rassvet
docking module as the ships sailed 410km above northern
"The Soyuz sleigh has pulled into port at the International
Space Station with a holiday gift of three new crewmembers,"
said NASA mission commentator Rob Navias.
The trio joined station commander Kevin Ford and Russian
cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy and Evgeni Tarelkin, who are two
months into a planned six-month mission.
Ford is due to turn over command of the $100 billion research
complex, a project of 15 nations, in mid-March to Hadfield,
who will become the first Canadian to lead a space
"This is a big event for me personally," Hadfield said in a
preflight interview. "It takes a lot of work, a lot of focus.
It's something that I can look back on as an accomplishment
and a threshold of my life."
Command of the station, which has been continuously occupied
since November 2000, typically rotates between an American
and a Russian crewmember.
In 2009, Belgian astronaut Frank De Winne broke that cycle to
become the first European Space Agency commander. Japan's
Koichi Wakata is training to lead the Expedition 39 crew in
All three of the station's new residents have made previous
spaceflights. Hadfield, 53, is a veteran of two space shuttle
missions. Marshburn, 52, has one previous shuttle mission and
Roman Romanenko, 41, a second-generation cosmonaut, served as
a flight engineer aboard the space station in 2009.
The station crew will have some time off to celebrate several
winter holidays in orbit - Christmas, the New Year and then
Orthodox Christmas - before tackling a list of about 150
science experiments and station maintenance, including two
Among the studies will be medical research into how the human
cardiovascular system changes in microgravity.
"When you live in an environment like that, the heart
actually shrinks. Your blood vessel response changes. It
actually sets us up to cardiovascular problems," Hadfield
said. "We have a sequence of experiments that's taking blood
samples and monitoring our body while we're exercising and
doing different things to try and understand what's going on
with our cardiovascular system," he said.
The research is expected to help doctors unravel the aging
process on Earth, which is similar in many respects to what
happens to the human body in weightlessness.
In addition to medical research, the space station serves as
a laboratory for fluid physics and other microgravity
sciences, a platform for several astronomical observatories
and a testbed for robotics and other technologies.