:VIDEO: ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet arrives at the International Space Station


ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet, NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson and Roscosmos commander Oleg Novitsky docked with the International Space Station today after a two-day flight in their Soyuz MS-03 spacecraft.

The trio was launched from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan 17 November at 20:20 GMT and enjoyed a routine flight to catch up with the Space Station 400 km up.

This was the first launch of an ESA astronaut on an upgraded version of the workhorse spacecraft that has been in service for almost 50 years. Despite the modernisation, for the crew it was like spending two days in a small car. Throughout the journey the astronauts kept in radio contact with Moscow ground control.

After docking at 21:58 GMT, Thomas, Peggy and Oleg were welcomed aboard the Space Station at 00:40 GMT by NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough and cosmonauts Andrei Borisenko and Sergei Ryzhikov.

The six will maintain the Station and work on scientific experiments that cannot be done anywhere else, exploiting the weightlessness that is unique to the space laboratory.

This marks the start of Thomas’s Proxima mission, named after the closest star to the Sun – continuing a tradition of naming missions with French astronauts after stars and constellations.

The mission is part of ESA’s vision to use Earth-orbiting spacecraft as a place to live and work for the benefit of European society while using the experience to prepare for future voyages of exploration further into the Solar System.

Thomas will perform about 50 scientific experiments for ESA and France’s CNES space agency, as well as take part in many research activities for the other Station partners.

This is the ninth long-duration mission for an ESA astronaut and Thomas is the last of ESA’s 2009 recruits to fly into space. A former airline pilot, he is the first French astronaut to visit the Station since ESA’s Léopold Eyharts helped to install Europe’s Columbus module in 2008.

The new arrivals will spend six months in space before returning in Soyuz MS-03 to land in the steppes of Kazakhstan. ESA’s Paolo Nespoli, backup on this mission, is readying himself for launch in 2017 shortly after Thomas returns.

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