Russian Soyuz TMA Spacecraft
A Soyuz space capsule took the first crew to the International
Space Station in November 2000. Since that time, at least one
Soyuz has always been at the Station, generally to serve as a
lifeboat should the crew have to return to Earth unexpectedly.
After the Columbia accident in February 2003, the Soyuz TMA became
the means of transportation for crewmembers going to or returning
from the orbiting laboratory.
The Soyuz spacecraft is launched to the Space Station from the
Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan aboard a Soyuz rocket.
Once the Soyuz reaches orbit, it spends two days chasing the Station.
The crew performs systems checks and keeps in touch with controllers
at the Russian Mission Control Center during that time.
Before the final rendezvous phase, the crewmembers put on pressurized
suits and then monitor the automated docking sequence.
The rendezvous and docking are both automated, but the Soyuz crew
has the capability to manually intervene or execute these operations.
Once docking is complete, the crewmembers equalize the air pressure
of the Soyuz with the Station before opening the hatches.
At least one Russian Soyuz spacecraft is always docked to the
Space Station. In addition, there is usually a Progress supply
vehicle docked and sometimes a Space Shuttle as well. The Station
is well supplied with docking ports for all three types of vehicles.
Up to three crewmembers can launch and return to Earth from the
Station aboard a Soyuz TMA spacecraft. The vehicle lands on the
flat steppes of Kazakhstan in central Asia.
A Soyuz trip to the station takes two days from launch to docking,
but the return to Earth takes less than 3.5 hours.