Sidepodspace - Soyuz TMA-03M launch

21 December, 2011 at 12:30 (GMT)

By Steven Roy

On Wednesday December 21st at 8:16am Eastern / 13:16pm a Soyuz will blast of from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on route to the International Space Station. Naturally Sidepodcast will live comment the event. It seems like a long time since we watched a launch. That is partly due to the Soyuz fleet being grounded after problems with an unmanned flight and partly because I totally screwed up the launch date for the first launch after the vehicle was declared safe.

There are three people on this launch as usual and they will join with the three currently on the ISS to form the Expedition 30 crew. The crew of the Soyuz is Russian Cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, American astronaut Don Pettit and European Space Agency astronaut Andre Kuipers. Crew spaces on the ISS are allocated in proportion to the amount of money invested in it by each of the space agencies. In practise this means that the Russians and Americans get most of the slots with Canada, Japan and Europe never having more than one crew member on board at a time. I believe Europe is entitled to one crew member for 6 months out of every two years. So if you are European and fancy being an astronaut you better hope you have a Russian or American granny.

Kononenko is a massively experienced cosmonaut having already spent 199 days in space and was a member of the Expedition 17 ISS crew for over 6 months in 2008. He completed two spacewalks totalling more than 12 hours. I assume as the only Russian on board Kononenko will be in charge of the stick.

Pettit has already been to the ISS 3 times; twice as a crew member of a space shuttle and once as a permanent station crew member as part of Expedition 6. He has spent 177 days in space and has previously flown in a Soyuz. Pettit’s twitter account is @astro_Pettit

Kuipers is the second Dutch ESA astronaut and a novice compared to his crew mates. He has spent 11 days in space as a member of a Soyuz crew. He went to the ISS on Soyuz TMA-4 and while his two crew mates became permanent members of the station crew he returned to Earth just over a week later with two members of the previous station crew. Kuipers is @astro_andre on Twitter. https://twitter.com/#!/astro_andre

Unlike space shuttle missions where you can expect endless delays Soyuz tends to launch on schedule almost every time. Video will be available from NASA TV and SpaceflightNow will have text commentary in addition to the video feed. The SpaceflightNow link will not be available until the day of the launch.

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