NASA Flight Engineer Joseph Acaba, Russian Soyuz Commander Gennady Padalka and Flight Engineer Sergei Revin lifted off for the International Space Station at 2301 EDT Monday, May 14 (0901 Baikonur time on May 15), from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
Acaba, Padalka and Revin are scheduled to dock their Soyuz TMA-04M spacecraft to the Poisk module of the station at 2339 EDT Wednesday, May 16. They will join Expedition 31 Commander Oleg Kononenko of the Russian Federal Space Agency and Flight Engineers Don Pettit of NASA and André Kuipers of the European Space Agency, who have been aboard the orbiting laboratory since Dec. 23, 2011. The six astronauts and cosmonauts will work together for about two months.
Upon arrival, Acaba, Padalka and Revin will become members of the Expedition 31 crew, restoring the station's crew complement to six and continuing scientific research aboard the station. Pettit, Kononeko and Kuipers are scheduled to return to Earth on July 1. Acaba, Padalka and Revin will return home in mid-September.
Also on board with the crew was a small "Smokey Bear" plush toy serving as the traditional Soyuz "talisman." Smokey Bear is the U.S. national symbol for wildfire prevention. Prior to the flight, Acaba explained he proposed flying Smokey Bear in an effort to raise awareness of human-caused wildfires. Acaba, an avid outdoorsman, holds two degrees in geology and served as an environmental education awareness promoter while in the U.S. Peace Corps. (Photo: Expedition 31 Launch courtesy NASA TV)