April 9 (UPI) — NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy launched to the International Space Station from Kazakhstan early Thursday morning with two Russian cosmonauts.
The rocket lifted off on schedule at 4:05 a.m. EDT from Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome, staring a six-hour journey of orbiting the Earth four times before catching up to the space station.
The launch took place amid the coronavirus pandemic, with the passengers having undergone a two-week isolation period before departure. They had minimal human contact during that period, except for close monitoring of health conditions, according to NASA.
“What’s new for me is everyone around us is in quarantine for two weeks,” Cassidy said in a NASA video leading up to the launch.
As with most crewed Soyuz launches, very little additional equipment or science was on board. A SpaceX cargo capsule delivered supplies to the space station on March 9.
Cassidy and the cosmonauts — Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner — are scheduled to be aboard the space station next month for the planned arrival of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule.
That will be the first U.S. spacecraft to ferry astronauts to the space station since the shuttle program ended in 2011.
NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley are to arrive on NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 flight test, currently targeted to launch no earlier than mid-to-late May.
The Soyuz crew was scheduled to dock with the station’s Zvezda service module at 10:16 a.m. EDT. About two hours after docking, hatches between the Soyuz and the station will open.
The new crew will join Expedition 62 Commander Oleg Skripochka of Roscosmos and NASA astronauts Andrew Morgan and Jessica Meir, who will complete their space station mission and return to Earth on April 17 on another Soyuz.
Cassidy is due to become Expedition 63 commander upon the departure of Skripochka, Morgan and Meir. A change of command ceremony is planned Wednesday.
The spaceflight is the third for Cassidy and Ivanishin and the first for Vagner.