ESA astronaut André Kuipers arrives at the Space Station

Soyuz TMA-03M on approach to the ISS
Approaching the Space Station

23 December 2011
ESA astronaut André Kuipers and crewmates Oleg Kononeko and Don Pettit docked today with the International Space Station in their Soyuz TMA-03M spacecraft. They will work aboard the Station now for five months and return to Earth in May.
ESA’s fourth long mission on the International Space Station began on Wednesday, when the Soyuz rocket roared into the evening sky from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

After circling the globe for the last two days, the spacecraft docked at 15:19 GMT (16:19 CET) this evening, 23 December.

The automated rendezvous sequence began about two hours before docking, but the crew, led by commander Oleg Kononenko, were ready to take over manually if required.


TV image from the Soyuz TMA-03M spacecraft
View to the Soyuz spacecraft after the launch

A routine arrival
Preparing for arrival, the crew closed the hatch between the two Soyuz modules, donned their Sokol pressure suits and carefully monitored the approach and docking sequence.

Soyuz slowly flew around the Station and spiralled in to perfect alignment with the Earth-facing docking port of Russia’s Zarya module.

With TV cameras transmitting views of the Station, Soyuz fired its small thrusters for the final approach.

After docking, a firm connection was confirmed and, when pressure checks found no air leaks, the crew removed their suits. The pressure was equalised between the two vehicles and the hatch to the Station was opened.


Soyuz liftoff on Wednesday

Mission full of PromISSe
During his mission, PromISSe, André will conduct more than 25 ESA experiments and around 20 for NASA and Japan’s space agency, JAXA, including human research, biology, fluid physics, materials science, radiation research and technology.

His mission also features a strong educational aspect centred on the theme ‘Spaceship Earth’.

The lessons from space will educate children in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, as well as illustrating the requirements for life on Earth.


Expeditions 30 and 31 crew members wave goodbye to the crowd
Greeting audience at the launch pad

As part of ‘Mission-X: Train Like an Astronaut’, André will invite thousands of students to perform physical exercises and classroom lessons to compete with teams around the world to become as fit as astronauts.

Following his mission is easy: André is tweeting on @astro_andre and writing his own mission diary in Dutch (‘Logboek’) with English translations.

The PromISSe blog covers the whole mission and it’s also an ideal way to post questions and comments.

For more information about the mission, take a look at


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