A Soyuz capsule carrying incoming station commander Terry Virts
from U.S. space agency NASA, Soyuz commander Anton Shkaplerov from
the Russian Federal Space Agency and first-time flier Samantha
Cristoforetti of the European Space Agency lifted off at 2101 GMT
(4.01 p.m. EST) Sunday.
Less than six hours later, the capsule flew into a berthing port on
the Russian side of the station as the two ships sailed about 260
miles (418 km) over the central Pacific Ocean, NASA mission
commentator Kyle Herring from the Johnson Space Center in Houston
The station, owned and operated by 15 nations, serves as an orbiting
laboratory for life science, materials research, technology
development and other experiments using the unique microgravity
environment and vantage point of space.
"I think that 100 years from now, 500 years from now, people will
look back on this as the initial baby steps that we took going into
the solar system," Virts told a pre-launch press conference.
"In the same way that we look back on Columbus and the other
explorers 500 years ago, this is the way people will look at this
time in history."
The $100 billion research laboratory has been short-staffed since
Nov. 9 when Russian cosmonaut Maxim Suraev, European astronaut
Alexander Gerst and NASA’s Reid Wiseman returned home after 5.5
months in orbit.
The new crew faces a busy six months in orbit, including a trio of
spacewalks to prepare the station for a new fleet of U.S. commercial
space taxis due to begin flying astronauts to the station in late
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Cristoforetti, 37, an Italian Air Force pilot, deflected questions
about being Italy's first female astronaut during a webcast
prelaunch press conference from Kazakhstan on Saturday. "I have done
nothing special to be the first Italian woman to fly to space. I
just wanted to fly to space and I happen to be the first,"
Cristoforetti, who was speaking in Russian, said through a
(Reporting by Irene Klotz in Cape Canaveral, Fla.; Editing by
Marguerita Choy and Richard Borsuk)
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