Two former helicopter test pilots are among the team of astronauts that successfully docked today at the International Space Station.
American astronaut Timothy Kopra, British astronaut Timothy Peake and Russian cosmonaut Yuri Ivanovich Malenchenko blasted off on a Soyuz rocket out of Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 5:03 p.m. local time. Despite trouble with the automatic rendezvous system, commander Malenchenko manually docked the ferry ship to the International Space Station’s Rassvet module at 12:33 p.m. EST. The crew will complete a four-orbit rendezvous.
After graduating as an officer of the British Army Air Corps, Peake served as an Apache helicopter instructor between 2002 and 2005, and later served with Rotary Wing Test Squadron, Boscombe Down between 2006 and 2009. After retiring in 2009 as a major in the British Army, he became a senior helicopter test pilot for AgustaWestland. Peake has logged more than 3,000 hours in more than 30 helicopter and fixed-wing aircraft types. He currently flies as a major in the Territorial Army and maintains a private pilot license. Peake was selected as Britain's first ESA astronaut in May 2009 and serves as a flight engineer onboard the Soyuz.
Kopra, as a U.S. Army aviator, was assigned in 1990 to the 3rd Armored Division in Hanau, Germany, and served in operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. He completed his Germany tour as an attack helicopter company commander and an operations officer. Back in the U.S., Kopra attended Georgia Tech and was selected in 1995 to attend the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School. After graduating, he was assigned to the U.S. Army Aviation Technical Test Center as an experimental test pilot and served as the developmental test director for the Comanche helicopter program. Kopra also attended the Army Parachutist Course, Pathfinder Course, Air Assault Course, the Combined Services Staff School and the Command and General Staff College. Kopra retired from the U.S. Army in Nov. 2010 and was selected as a NASA astronaut in July of 2000. He is also is a flight engineer onboard the Soyuz.
Malenchenko, while not a rotary-wing pilot, has the distinction of being the first person to marry in space on Aug. 10, 2003. While roughly 240 miles above New Zealand onboard the International Space Station, he married Ekaterina Dmitrieva, who was in Texas at the time. He serves as both flight engineer and Soyuz commander.