Three astronauts have been successfully launched into orbit aboard a Soyuz rocket from Baikonur, Kazakhstan. The astronauts, one American and two Russians, will dock with the International Space Station (ISS) on 16 May.
The astronauts will join three already aboard, and plans are to keep all six on ISS for two months. The Soyuz capsule will remain attached to ISS until July, when it will carry the three already aboard back to a landing zone in Kazakhstan.
The crew will be joined on 22 May by a SpaceX Dragon capsule filled with supplies. If successful, the flight will become the first commercial craft to dock with ISS. A second commercial craft, an Orbital Sciences Cygnus capsule, is scheduled to dock in late 2012.
Resupply to ISS is nominally the major driver behind NASA's commercial orbital transportation services (COTS) programme, which has funded the SpaceX and Orbital Sciences capsule development to launch supplies, and the commercial crew development (CCDev) programme to launch crew. Currently, Soyuz is the only vehicle certified to bring crew to ISS, for which NASA pays $60 million per seat.
While ISS is scheduled to de-orbit in 2020, few doubt that its mission will be extended, given the massive expense required to build it and its unique position as the only manned space station.
Soyuz capule docking with ISS