Taking the 'taxi'
The Soyuz rocket was originally conceived as part of the Soviet effort to explore the Moon in the early 1960s, and has continued ferrying Russian crews to the Salyut and Almaz orbital stations long after the Moon race was over. The longest-serving manned spacecraft in the world has performed several solo flights, along with the historic docking with the US Apollo spacecraft in 1975.
One of the world's most reliable and frequently used launch vehicles, Soyuz has also been used in more than 1630 missions to orbit satellites for telecommunications, Earth observations, weather and scientific missions.
Lighter, easier to manoeuvre
The Soyuz T version flew its first manned mission in 1980 and the TM modification has been delivering crews to the Mir space station since 1986. Specifically designed for independent manoeuvrability, without the space station itself having to make "mirror image" movements during docking procedures, the Soyuz TM's lighter rendezvous system and improved launch escape tower permit higher payloads and more fuel to be carried during a mission.
A 'lifeboat'for the ISS
With a total length of 7.5m and a total habitable volume of 9m³, an average Soyuz weighs 7250kg, carries 900kg of propellants and delivers a primary engine thrust of 400kgf. Consisting of separate service and orbital modules, and a re-entry capsule, the three-seat vehicle serves as a "lifeboat" for the ISS and the crew of Taxi-3 will leave behind their spacecraft, returning to Earth in the Soyuz re-entry vehicle already docked to the ISS for the last six months.
After his mission, Mark will bring a Soyuz capsule to South Africa for a tour of schools.