At 11:12 GMT (13:12 CEST), 6 June 2018, ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst was launched into space alongside NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor and Roscosmos commander Sergei Prokopyev in the Soyuz MS-09 spacecraft from Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
The launch went as planned as the 50-m tall Soyuz rocket propelled the astronauts to their cruising speed of around 28 800 km/h. Within 10 minutes of rising from the pad, the trio travelled over 1640 km and gained 210 km altitude. Every second for nine minutes, their spacecraft accelerated 50 km/h on average.
The spacecraft is an improved model from the last time Alexander was launched into space in 2014 with many technological upgrades to make the spacecraft lighter and more modern. For example, halogen lights have been replaced with LEDs, and newer and larger solar panels increase power generation.
Over the next two days, while circling Earth 34 times, the trio will catch up with the International Space Station where they will spend the next six months. The journey is relatively smooth and quiet after the rigours of launch. With no Internet or satellite phones, the crew relies on radio to communicate at set intervals with ground control.
The German astronaut is a returning visitor to the International Space Station, the first of ESA’s 2009 class of astronauts to be sent into space for a second time. During the second part of his mission Alexander will take over as commander of the International Space Station, only the second time an ESA astronaut will take on this role so far.