Almost fifty years to the day since the first human spaceflight blasted off, the Soyuz TMA-21 mission last night left for the International Space Station.
After the retirement of the US shuttle fleet, such missions will be the only way for US astronauts to reach the station.
NASA astronaut Ron Garan and Russian cosmonauts Andrey Borisenko and Alexander Samokutyaev lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan – the same launch pad used April 12, 1961, when Yuri Gagarin became the first person to go into space.
It’s the first flight for Samokutyayev and Borisenko, although Garan has already spent 13 days in space during a 2008 shuttle mission.
The Soyus rocket is decorated with Yuri Gagarin’s name and picture, along with a giant number 50 – and the words ‘Let’s go!’, Gagarin’s famous last words before climibing on board.
The crew is scheduled to dock to the ISS’s Poisk port at 7:18 pm tomorrow. The crew members will join Expedition 27 Commander Dmitry Kondratyev and Flight Engineers Cady Coleman of NASA and Paolo Nespoli of the European Space Agency, who have been aboard the orbiting laboratory since last December.
They will spend about six months aboard the ISS, conducting around 40 experiments.
The mission was originally intended to leave a week ago, but was delayed by problems with the radio communications system.