Soyuz launch launches a series of takeoffs and landings for the rotation of the space station’s crew

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NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei and two Russian cosmonauts will take a Soyuz ferry to the International Space Station early Friday. This is the first step in a record crew rotation that requires two takeoffs and two landings with four different spacecraft in just three weeks.

The launch is scheduled for Friday at 3:42 p.m. (12.42 p.m. local time) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The launch takes place just three days before the 60th anniversary of the historic flight of the cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin on April 12, 1961, who was the first man deployed in space. More than 570 men and women have since embarked on the voyage, fueling competition and cooperation between Russia and the United States that culminated in the International Space Station.

“When we first started, we were competing with each other and that was one of the reasons we were so successful in the early days of human space travel,” Vande Hei said at a pre-launch press conference. “And over time we have realized that we can achieve even more by working together. This is still the case today, and I hope that it will continue to do so in the future.”

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The Soyuz crew MS-18 / 64S answer questions during a pre-launch press conference at the Baikonur Cosmodrome before flying to the International Space Station early Friday. Left to right: Mark Vande Hei, Soyuz commander Oleg Novitskiy and flight engineer Pyotr Dubrov.

NASA


The Soyuz spacecraft will carry Oleg Novitskiy, the commander of the Soyuz MS-18 / 64S, and the flight engineer Pyotr Dubrov to replace the current seven-person crew at Vande Hei station.

The Soyuz climbed directly into the plane of the orbit of the space station and was supposed to overtake the space station in only two orbits and to dock with the earth-side Rassvet module at 7:07 a.m. CET.

Standing ready to greet them on board will be Soyuz MS-17 / 63S Commander Sergey Ryzhikov and his two crew members Sergey Kud-Sverchkov and Kate Rubins together with SpaceX Crew-1 dragon The astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, Shannon Walker and the Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi.

The expanded crew of 10 will enjoy a week together before Ryzhikov, Kud-Sverchkov and Rubins undock and return to Earth aboard their own Soyuz. They land in the steppes of Kazakhstan on April 17 at 00:56 EDT on a 185-day mission.

Five days later, on April 22nd, at 6:11 a.m., NASA and SpaceX plan to launch a Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon capsule from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to meet Crew 2 Commander Shane Kimbrough , Megan McArthur and the Japanese Akihiko Hoshide and Thomas Pesquet from ESA to the station, which briefly increases the crew of the laboratory to 11.

After helping their representatives familiarize themselves with ward systems, the SpaceX Crew-1 astronauts – Hopkins, Glover, Walker and Noguchi – will head home and splash off the coast of Florida in the Atlantic on April 28 to complete a 164-day flight, the first operational mission of a SpaceX Crew Dragon.

The exchange of the space station crew is now complete. The Crew 2 astronauts and Soyuz MS-18 / 64S crew are expected to be replaced in late September and mid-October, respectively.

Six months in space could stretch to a year

But Vande Hei, a last-minute addition to the newest Soyuz crew, doesn’t know when to hitch up a trip home. While his flight is officially supposed to last six months, he could live on board the space station for a full year.

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A Russian Orthodox priest blesses the Soyuz rocket at the launch pad, a traditional practice at the Baikonur Cosmodrome.

NASA


This is because NASA managers want to ensure a continuous U.S. presence onboard the laboratory to ensure that a properly trained NASA astronaut is on board at all times to service U.S. systems, even if launches are interrupted or partial Evacuation is forced.

“It is planned that I will be on board for six months,” said Vande Hei from Moscow in an interview with CBS News before the start. “Of course it’s a very dynamic situation, so we’re trying to make sure we’re ready for anything. I feel emotionally ready to stay in orbit longer than planned.”

He added, “There are a variety of things that could affect my return (but I am also very confident that no matter what happens, we will make sure we have a continuous presence on the space station in the US . “NASA wants to ensure the continued launch of American astronauts aboard Russian Soyuz spaceships and Russian cosmonauts aboard US ferries, even though the US space agency has funded the development of commercial crew ships to make their sole reliance on Russia for transportation to and from End station.

Russian cosmonauts are not trained to operate NASA’s solar power system, computers, stabilizing gyroscopes, and other systems. Likewise, US astronauts are not prepared to operate Russian propulsion, docking, and other mission-critical systems.

If a medical emergency or other crisis forced a Russian or NASA crew to make an unplanned departure, the remaining crew members trained to operate U.S. or Russian systems – but not both – may not be able to wait the station alone .

NASA also wants to protect against the possibility of a takeoff accident or a major technical problem that could interrupt or suspend the crew’s rotation flights.

Soyuz seats will not be available in the near future – Rubins used the last NASA directly purchased seat – and in any case, NASA is no longer eligible to buy Russian spacecraft rides. Vande Hei’s seat was obtained through Axiom Space in Houston in exchange for a future commercial astronaut flight on a NASA sponsored ferry.

NASA executives hope to reach an agreement with the Russian space agency to ensure crew continuity aboard the station by launching at least one NASA astronaut on board every Soyuz flight and one cosmonaut on board every US commercial occupation mission .

In the meantime, Vande Hei is ready to stay in orbit for how long it will take for a seat to open.

“The stance we are taking is that every step of this (mission) means that I am so much closer to home whether it is six months or more,” he said. “My wife really has a fantastic attitude. I have campaigned for my family several times (but) and this would be a record holder.”

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