A new crew of three astronauts will take off for the International Space Station tonight and shoot down a Russian Soyuz rocket from Kazakhstan. The trio is on their way to the station about a month before the next crewed SpaceX launch, which will bring another set of four astronauts aboard the ISS in mid-November.
On this Soyuz flight, two Russian cosmonauts – Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov – and NASA astronaut Kate Rubins are on their second journey into space. The trio will join three crew members who have been living on the ISS since April: Russian cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner, and NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy. However, your life circumstances will not last long. Cassidy and his cosmonaut crew members are due to return to Earth on October 21 and ride the Soyuz capsule that brought them to the space station.
Just weeks later, in early to mid-November, Rubins and her team will be welcoming the four-person crew to SpaceX’s first Crew Dragon operational mission, called Crew-1. This flight will bring three NASA astronauts – Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker – and Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi to the ISS for a six-month stay. Their arrival in SpaceX’s new passenger car will bring the total population of the ISS to seven – a larger than usual cohort for the ISS, which has typically consisted of six since the end of the space shuttle program.
Rubins’ flight on the Soyuz comes at a time of transition in NASA’s program to manned space travel. Since the space shuttle’s last flight in 2011, NASA astronauts have only been able to get to the station with the Russian Soyuz rocket. As part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, two private companies – SpaceX and Boeing – have developed their own space capsules to get NASA astronauts to and from the space station. In May, SpaceX demonstrated that its Crew Dragon spacecraft could safely move astronauts to and from the station when it delivered two NASA crew members to the ISS. Boeing’s first crewed test flight is currently planned for next year.
SpaceX and Boeing vehicles should be ready by 2017, but their development programs suffered from years of delays. Meanwhile, NASA continued to buy seats on Russia’s Soyuz for U.S. astronauts – for around $ 80 million per person – even though the agency tried to cap the amount in hopes that the commercial crew’s vehicles would be online soon would go. NASA had hoped they would be ready last year, but with further delays imminent, the space agency bought one last Soyuz seat – the one Rubins will be driving tomorrow morning.
In the future, NASA hopes that it will be able to do seat business with Roscosmos, in which Russian cosmonauts will ride SpaceX and Boeing vehicles in exchange for NASA astronauts flying on the Soyuz. NASA has not yet announced any of these deals, however, so it is unclear when the next American astronaut will fly on the Soyuz after this mission.
The Soyuz is scheduled to take off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 1:45 a.m. ET on Wednesday morning. It will be a short trip to the ISS. The Soyuz capsule will only orbit Earth twice and spend three hours in space before docking with the International Space Station. Docking is scheduled to take place around 4:52 a.m. ET on Wednesday, and the crew should be on board the ISS less than two hours later.
NASA’s coverage of the launch begins at 12:45 a.m. (CET). So if you get up late (or get up early) you can watch Soyuz start live.
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