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SYFY WIRE Bad Astronomy

Watch Today as Three More Humans Travel to Space

By Phil Plait

Update, Nov. 23, 2014, at 21:20 UTC: Eight and a half minutes after a textbook launch, and the Soyuz is in orbit and chasing down the space station. They'll rendezvous in about six hours. Apropos of the Twitter conversation I had with Samantha Cristoforetti (see below), here's a shot of her I grabbed from the NASA stream showing her using the Fing-Longer just after they achieved orbit. 

Today (Nov. 23, 2014) at 21:01 UTC (16:01 Eastern), a Soyuz rocket is scheduled to launch from Baikonur, Kazakhstan. On board will be three human beings: American Terry Virts, Russian Anton Shkaplerov, and Italian Samantha Cristoforetti.

You can watch the launch live on NASA TV, NASA’s Ustream feed (embedded below for your convenience), and the ESA live feed.

There are some cool things about this particular crew. For one, as AmericaSpace points out, all three are in the Air Force, though from three different countries. I’ll add that in our collective pasts, all three countries have been enemies at one point or another. Yet here we are, all three not just cooperating but sending members of their military into space together to work as a team.

That makes my heart soar.

All three are on Twitter: Virts, Shkaplerov, and Cristoforetti. Together, they make up the rest of the crew of Expedition 42, which began when the ISS hatch closed on the Soyuz capsule that brought three members of Expedition 41 back to Earth—at the time, three astronauts stayed on ISS, and now the team will be at full speed with six members.

This isn’t your ordinary space station crew. After all, would your everyday astronaut team pick this as their promotional poster?

Heart? Still soaring.

I want to single out Cristoforetti for a moment. Not because she’s a female astronaut, though it’s perhaps worth noting that two women (the second being Elena Serova) will be on ISS together for only the second time since the orbiting facility was launched. And not because she’s the first astronaut named Samantha, either.

No, it’s because she’s cool. How do I know?

Back in August she tweeted a photo of the cabin of a Soyuz capsule. The seats are far enough back from the controls that they need to use extension wands to press some of the buttons, and Cristoforetti noted that the paperwork is done to get her pointer to fly.

I couldn’t help myself. I replied to her, and this conversation ensued.

(Note my typo; I meant “ad astra”, which means “to the stars,”, and is part of the phrase per aspera ad astra, or “through hardship to the stars.”)

All very nice and fun, and I got a good chuckle out of it. But then she became my favorite astronaut in the whole wide Universe when she picked the conversation back up a little while later:

And before you ask: I asked her, and she’s not bringing it into space with her. There goes the best promotional picture ever taken! Oh well.

Still: My heart is now well above the Kármán line.

So then, let me finally add: Per cordibus nostris, ad astra.

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