Houston, there were no problems for Tuesday's latest international space launch. The Johnson Space Center was American mission control as the Russian spacecraft Soyuz lifted off from Kazakhstan on a trip to the International Space Station, where it docked successfully about six hours later. This was only the second trip utilizing a new flight path, which cuts the travel time to the ISS down from about a day and a half. American astronaut Karen Nyberg was joined by a Russian and Italian on this journey. They joined American Chris Cassidy and two Russians who are already at the ISS, where the six-member crew will comprise Expedition 36 for the next several months.
Using Russian spacecraft to transport American astronauts seems strange to many who have grown up with the U.S. Shuttle program. But since the end of the Shuttle program in 2011, this is the only way for Americans to launch into deep space...for now. NASA spokesman Kyle Herring says there are several private companies looking to develop America's next spacecraft. "Those companies are working very heavily on their capsules and a small space plane to hopefully restore U.S. human transport capability to the ISS," he tells KTRH. Herring also points to NASA's Orion spacecraft, which is currently in development with the goal of deep space exploration.
Regardless of how we get there, Herring says the ISS remains a vital component of science and human development. "It serves as a test bed for future applications of spacecraft design, and it could serve eventually as a stepping stone to further human exploration, like learning how to live in space," he explains. That's why NASA is happy to use international assistance to continue its work in space. "We're obviously working on all these (transport) programs, and they definitely take time to get there," says Herring. "But in the meantime the ISS is serving as the beacon for international cooperation and obviously international science."