Giving new meaning to the term "space race," American astronaut Chris Cassidy and two Russian cosmonauts reached the International Space Station in less time than it takes to fly from London to New York.
The trio shaved 45 hours off the usual transport time Thursday, making a 50-hour trip in just under six hours after their Soyuz spacecraft blasted off from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
They cut their travel time by orbiting the Earth only four times instead of the usual 30, because the launch took place just after the Space Station passed overhead in orbit, reports the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph
NASA's official television commentator called their quick trip a “chase into space.” After the Soyuz spacecraft reached orbit, it had to travel just over 1,000 miles more to catch up with the Space Station. The quick trip is being seen as a boost for Russia's space program, after several satellite launches failed in the last year.
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The Russian cosmonauts, Pavel Vinogradov and Alexander Misurkin, along with Cassidy, will spend the next five months aboard the station. Since the U.S. space shuttle program is no longer flying missions, Russia is the only nation left that can transport people to the Space Station.
The reduced flight time also helped the crew, said Vinogradov. The 59-year-old, one of Russia's longest-serving cosmonauts, said the crew only starts to experience weightlessness after four hours of flight, so they are in better shape when they arrive at the space station.
"During the initial time, the crew feels completely normal and works normally," he said. "With such a short time the crew could even take an ice cream — it would not be able to melt."
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