The DELTA mission, with European Space Agency astronaut André Kuipers, and the ISS Expedition 9 crew lifted off today in the Soyuz TMA-4 spacecraft on flight 8S to the International Space Station. The launch took place from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 09.19 local time (05.19 Central European Time).
After launch and nine minutes of propelled flight, the Soyuz TMA-4 is in orbit and it will now take the crew, Kuipers, Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka and NASA astronaut Edward 'Mike' Fincke, about two days to reach the ISS. They are scheduled to dock at 07:00 CET on 21 April, with the hatch opening at 08:25.
Kuipers will be Flight Engineer on the Soyuz TMA-4, taking an active role in piloting and docking the spacecraft alongside Padalka, Soyuz Commander and ISS Expedition 9 Commander. Kuipers will also take the role of Flight engineer on his return flight. This is the fourth Soyuz TMA flight, the first having taken place in October 2002 with ESA astronaut Frank De Winne from Belgium on board. The Soyuz TMA-4 will replace the Soyuz TMA-3, which flew ESA astronaut Pedro Duque to the ISS on the Cervantes mission in October 2003. The Soyuz TMA-4 will remain docked with the ISS for approximately six months as an emergency lifeboat.
André Kuipers becomes the seventh European astronaut to visit the ISS, and the first from the Netherlands. He also becomes the second Dutch citizen in space, the first having been former ESA astronaut Wubbo Ockels in 1985. During his 11-day mission, nine of them on the ISS, Kuipers will carry out an extensive experiment programme in the fields of human physiology, biology, microbiology, physical science, Earth observation, education and technology.
The DELTA mission is sponsored by the Dutch Government through the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science and the Ministry of Economic Affairs, and many of the experiments were developed by Dutch researchers and built by Dutch industry and research institutions.
These experiments will cover a wide spectrum including research into instabilities of High Intensity Discharge lamps, which are widely used in sports stadiums and motorways. This experiment will be carried out in the European-built Microgravity Science Glovebox. An educational experiment will have children on Earth carrying out a seed germination experiment at the same time as André Kuipers in space. An example of a biology experiment included in the scientific programme, called Kappa, will be studying the NF- қB protein, one of the major challenges in contemporary biomedical research. This protein is prominently involved in many major health problems such as cancer, multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis.
“It is always satisfying to see a mission under way after observing all the hard work that has gone into its preparation”, said Jörg Feustel-Büechl, ESA’s Director of Human Spaceflight “The DELTA mission is a very diverse programme, with relevance to the lives of people old and young. It is a very positive sign to witness the degree of enthusiasm that has come into the mission from Dutch research and education institutions and industry, and I am pleased that, together with the scientific programme, children also get to play an active part during the mission”.
The 11-day DELTA mission concludes with the return to earth of the Soyuz TMA-3 landing module very early in the morning of 30 April 2004, the Dutch national holiday marking the Queen’s birthday. On the return flight André Kuipers will be accompanied by the ISS Expedition 8 crew, Alexander Kaleri and Michael Foale, who arrived at the ISS on 20 October in the Soyuz TMA-3. They are being replaced by Padalka, the ISS Expedition 9 Commander and Fincke, the ISS Expedition 9 Flight Engineer.
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