Soyuz launch marks 100th trip to Space Station

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In a scene Cold War space race veterans could have scarcely imagined, three new crew members for the International Space Station - two American, one Russian - aboard the Soyuz TMA-19 spacecraft were launched on 15 June from Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The launch marked the 100th trip to the space station.

US astronauts Doug Wheelock and Shannon Walker and Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin will join the Expedition 24 team of Russian commander Alexander Skvortsov and flight engineer Mikhail Kornienko, who with NASA flight engineer Tracy Caldwell Dyson have been on station since April.

Of the three additions, Yurchikhin is the most experienced, making his third trip into orbit and having spent six months aboard the ISS in 2007 as commander of Expedition 15. Walker is making her maiden space voyage; Wheelock, a US Army colonel, will become Expedition 25 commander when the current team returns to Earth in September.

Wheelock, Walker and Yurchikhin will welcome the Space Shuttle Endeavour to the ISS in November, the final Shuttle voyage for NASA. With the Shuttle fleet's retirement, the Russian-built Soyuz rocket will be the only way for astronauts to reach the space station for the foreseeable future.

The issue has raised some concerns about dependence on the Soviet-era spacecraft, despite it being considered one of the most reliable means of space travel.

Some members of Congress and former astronauts criticised the Obama administration plan to kill the Constellation manned spaceflight programme and the proposed reliance on international and commercial launch services.

Constellation called for the development of new NASA rockets such as the solid-fuelled Ares 1, to service the ISS and return to the Moon by 2020 and the Lockheed Martin-built Orion crew capsule. The current plan for NASA includes a scaled-down version of Orion for emergency situations and the development of a heavylift rocket by 2015.

On the same day the ISS crew launched from Kazakhstan, Sen Bill Nelson submitted a proposal to extend the Shuttle's life by one more flight and make other adjustments to the Obama administration space plan.

"I am proposing that we take a 'walk before you run' approach for the development of commercial crew services," Nelson wrote in a 15 June letter. "Astronaut safety will be the core component of all these requirements, as with any human spaceflight programme."