New NASA crew blast off to the International Space Station

21 Dec 2011

The Soyuz TMA-03M rocket launches from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan today, carrying Expedition 30 Soyuz Commander Oleg Kononenko of Russia, NASA flight engineer Don Pettit and ESA astronaut and flight engineer Andre Kuipers. Image by NASA

Today a new space expedition carrying three astronauts rocketed off to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard the Russian Soyuz rocket from Kazakhstan. While some of us will be tucking into turkey and cranberry sauce or meatloaf this Christmas Day, spare a thought for the astronauts aboard the International Space Station, who will have to make do with space food and water bubbles, but you can send them some Christmas cheer via a NASA postcard online or a holiday tweet via Twitter.

Expedition 30 flight engineers Don Pettit, Oleg Kononenko and Andre Kuipers launched at 8:16am EST today (7.16pm local time) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The three new ISS crew members launched in their Soyuz TMA-03M spacecraft to begin a two-day trip to the orbiting outpost. NASA said today the trio look set to dock at the station’s Rassvet mini-research module at about 10.22am on Friday.

Expedition 30 commander Dan Burbank and flight engineers Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin will welcome their new crew mates aboard the station a little while later when they open the hatches at about 1pm on Friday, according to the space agency.

Pettit, Kononenko and Kuipers are scheduled to live and work aboard the orbiting laboratory until May.

And if you want to send them a holiday greeting, all you need to do is click here.

Science Week in Ireland – ESA astronaut Christer Fuglesang spoke about outer space and living at the ISS

Christer Fuglesang, who is also head of Science & Applications Division in ESA's Human Spaceflight & Operation Directorate, pictured floating near the International Space Station
Christer Fuglesang, who is also head of Science & Applications Division in ESA’s Human Spaceflight & Operation Directorate, floats near the International Space Station

But it’s not all bad for the NASA astronauts. Astronaut Christer Fuglesang, who is also head of Science & Applications Division in ESA’s Human Spaceflight & Operation Directorate, has been on two space missions. He was in Dublin in November for Science Week, where he spoke about what it’s like being in space.

Fugeslang said weightlessness can be a lot of fun in space, when you have the time. He also spoke of how wonderful it is to glimpse Earth from space and especially at nighttime across the globe’s expanse, when the lights come on in major city expanses, especially across Europe and the US.

When you come back to Earth after being in space, Fuglesang spoke about how astronauts need to be careful to build up their immune systems, as they may have become depleted while they were in space. He also spoke about exercising in space, as astronauts can loss muscle mass quite easily while up there due to the absence of gravity and cramped living quarters.

That’s why two Irish scientists – Dr Dónal O’Gorman at Dublin City University and Dr Brian Caulfield at University College Dublin – were recently awarded contracts totalling €135,000 from the ESA to focus on biomedical research for the European Human Spaceflight programme. Their research will focus on figuring out how scientists can keep in tip-top shape while in space.

But here’s a little taste of the history of eating in space since 1961.

  • The first person to eat in space was, surprise, surprise the first person to venture into space. As explains, USSR cosmonaut Yuri A Gagarin ate and drank during his one orbit of Earth in the capsule Vostok 1 in 1961.
  • In 1973, America’s Skylab space station took it one step further. They were graced with a fridge, so the US astronauts had the first ice cream in orbit. According to, they also ingested prime rib, German potato salad made with onions and vinegar, hot chili, plus scrambled eggs with liquid pepper spice.
  • Then, in 1985, French astronaut Patrick Baudry brought a gourmet twist to space when he treated his fellow crew members aboard US space shuttle Discovery to some French cuisine.

According to NASA, astronauts eat and drink about 70pc less in space than they do on Earth.

Carmel Doyle was a long-time reporter with Silicon Republic