An American astronaut and two Russian astronauts set off to the International Space Station shortly before extending 20 years of continuous human presence in Earth’s orbit.
NASA’s Kate Robins, along with Sergey Rijikov and Sergey Kud-Svershkov of Roscosmos, took off aboard the Russian Soyuz MS-17 spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Wednesday (14 October). Their launch, aboard the Soyuz-2.1a missile, began at 1:45 a.m. EDT (0545 GMT; 10:45 a.m. KST).
The three crew members are scheduled to dock on their Soyuz rover in Rasvet at 4:52 a.m. EST (0852 GMT) after an encounter in two orbits. This mission marks the first use by a crew of a “high-speed” flight plan, which will see Soyuz reach the space station within three hours of launch, rather than following an earlier six-hour fast track or two-day track.
“This orbital forum has been designed for a long time now. It has been tested with progress [cargo] “We will arrive at the station much sooner than we have arrived in Baikonur from Moscow,” Rijikov told a pre-launch press conference on Tuesday.
The launch of Robins, Regikov and Sverhkov’s Code came two and a half weeks before the 20th anniversary of the space station’s first crews taking up residence in the orbiting complex. Expedition 1 crew, made up of an American and two Russians – William Shepard, Yuri Luncakov and Sergey Krikaliv – began their stay on November 2, 2000.
“The 20th anniversary of the continued human presence in space is going to be an amazing event and I think we all look forward to being there during that time,” Robbins said. “I think the International Space Station is one of the most incredible engineering achievements in human history, and it definitely ranks very high in spaceflight achievements. It’s just amazing to see such a gigantic machine built entirely by humans and flying off the surface of The Earth is still in space after 20 years. “
On board the space station since April, waiting for Robins, Rezikov and Cod-Svereshkov, there is Mission 63 Commander Chris Cassidy of NASA and Roscosmos aeronautical engineers Anatoly Evannishin and Ivan Wagner. The six crew members will serve together for seven days before Cassidy, Evaneshin and Wagner return to Earth aboard the Soyuz MS-16, leaving Robins, Regikov and Cod-Sverhkov to begin Expedition 64.
Mission 64, led by Ryzhikov, will complement three people until the launch of SpaceX’s Crew-1 mission with four astronauts. Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, and Shannon Walker of NASA and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Soishi Noguchi are scheduled to fly aboard the Dragon spacecraft by mid-November, waiting for the engine issue that led to the abort of SpaceX to be resolved. Launching on October 2nd.
During their six-month mission, Robins, Regikov and Kod-Sverchkov will conduct hundreds of scientific experiments and technical demonstrations in a diverse field of disciplines, including biology, biotechnology, physics and earth sciences.
“We plan to try some really interesting things like bioprinting tissues and cells growing in space, and of course, continue our work on DNA sequencing,” said Robins, who in 2016 became the first astronaut to sequence DNA in space.
The station’s three residents will also oversee the arrival of several spacecraft to resupply, including the advance vehicles, the first SpaceX’s second-generation Dragon Charge capsules and the Northrop Grumman Cygnus spacecraft. The three may also be on station for the first docking by the Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft in an unmanned orbital flight test, which targets early 2021.
Ryzhikov and Kud-Sverchkov are scheduled to spacewalk to prepare for the disposal of the Russian Pirs docking station and the addition of the multipurpose Nauka (“Science”) laboratory unit. The Pirs Unit was first added to the space station in 2001.
For Robins, a microbiologist who lived on the space station for 115 days in 2016, Wednesday’s launch was a personal milestone: her 42nd birthday.
“I feel like this is going to be a birthday that I will never be able to conquer. It’s so funny to go out into space on your birthday,” Robbins said in an interview with CollectSPACE. She is now the fifth American astronaut to launch on her birthday after Richard Trulli on STS-2 in 1981, Dale Gardner on STS-51A in 1984, Kent Rumminger on STS-85 in 1997 and John Phillips on Soyuz TMA-6 in 2005 .
Rijikov, a 46-year-old Russian Air Force pilot, is also on his second space flight, having previously served with Robins on Expedition 49 in 2016. Kod-Svershkov, a 37-year-old flight engineer, is on his first mission.
The Soyuz MS-17 is the 63 Russian Soyuz spacecraft that has been launched to the International Space Station since 2000, and the 146th vehicle in flight since the first Soyuz mission in 1967. It is the 100th spacecraft that launches a crew towards the space station, including Soyuz MS10. Abortion on board in 2018.