A trio of space travelers returned to Earth this morning from the International Space Station, including NASA astronaut Christina Koch, who set a record for the longest single spaceflight by a woman, at 326 straight days. Also coming home was ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano, who has now spent a total of 367 days in space (in two missions), more days than any ESA astronaut in history.
The crew of Expedition 61 also included Russian cosmonaut and Soyuz Commander Alexander Skvortsov, who completed his third mission for a total of 546 days in space, placing him 15th on the all-time time-in-space list.
Wow! See that bright streak in the photo above? That’s a shot of the Expedition 40 crew making a flawless return from the International Space Station yesterday (Sept. 10) … a shot taken from space itself.
“Our view of the picture perfect reentry of TMA-12M,” wrote Expedition 41 astronaut Reid Wiseman, who just hours before bid farewell to Steve Swanson (NASA), Alexander Skvortsov (Roscosmos) and Oleg Artemyev (Roscosmos). The re-entry was in fact so perfect that TV cameras caught the parachute immediately after deployment, which doesn’t always happen.
As you can see in the video replay below, the Soyuz made a bulls-eye landing near Dzhezkazgan, Kazakhstan at 10:23 p.m. EDT (2:23 a.m. UTC). There are now only three people tending to the space station until the rest of the Expedition 41 crew launches, which is expected to happen Sept. 25.
Update, 8:33 p.m. EDT: The Soyuz spacecraft arrived safely at station at 7:53 p.m. EDT (11:53 a.m. UTC) and coverage of the hatch opening is scheduled at 10:15 p.m. EDT (2:15 a.m. UTC).
After spending an extra couple of days in the cramped Russian Soyuz spacecraft, the incoming International Space Station crew will likely be very be glad to get out and stretch their legs. You can check out the festivities live in the video link above.
Three people are set to make a docking with the orbiting complex at 7:58 p.m. EDT (11:58 p.m. UTC). If all goes to schedule, they’ll pop the hatch open at 10:40 p.m. EDT (2:40 a.m. UTC). Meanwhile, engineers are trying to figure out what caused the malfunction that prevented a docking as planned on Tuesday (March 25).
Remember that all schedules are subject to change, so tune into NASA TV well before each event happens.
The Expedition 39/40 crew lifted off Tuesday afternoon (EDT) from Kazakhstan to take a fast track to the space station that should have seen them dock on launch day. The Soyuz has to make three engine firings or burns to accomplish this. The docking was cancelled after the third burn did not happen as planned. The Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) has determined this was because the spacecraft was in the wrong orientation, but the underlying cause is still being investigated.
Once this happened, the crew switched to a standard backup procedure to bring them to the station in two days instead. (This path, in fact, was what all crews did up until last year.) The crew is safe and in good spirits heading up to the docking, NASA has said. The Soyuz has done several other engine firings since, with no incident.
The Soyuz crew includes Steve Swanson (NASA), Alexander Skvortsov (Roscosmos) and Oleg Artemyev (Roscosmos). Awaiting them on the station are Koichi Wakata (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency), Rick Mastracchio (NASA) and Mikhail Tyurin (Roscosmos). Wakata is in command of the station, marking a first for Japan’s astronaut corps.
The crew was originally expected to dock with the station around 11 p.m. EDT (3 a.m. UTC), but an error with the spacecraft’s position in space prevented the engines from doing a third planned “burn” or firing to make that possible, NASA said in an update.
“At this point, the crew is in good shape and the vehicle appears to be in good shape,” said Kenny Todd, the space station’s operations integration manager, in an interview on NASA TV Wednesday morning (EDT). “At this point, everything looks real good.”
In fact, the spacecraft has done a couple of burns since to get it into the right spot for a docking Thursday evening, Todd added. (So it appears the crew just missed the window to get there on Tuesday night.) The underlying cause of the orientation problem was not mentioned in the interview, presumably because it’s still being investigated.
NASA is quite familiar with a two-day route to the space station as up until last year, all crews took two days to get to the space station. This took place for 14 years until a rapider method of reaching the orbiting complex within hours was introduced.
The crew includes Steve Swanson (NASA), Alexander Skvortsov (Roscosmos) and Oleg Artemyev (Roscosmos), who will join three people already on station when they arrive.
Current station residents Koichi Wakata (the commander, of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency), Rick Mastracchio (NASA) and Mikhail Tyurin (Roscosmos) got to sleep in this morning and had some minor modifications to their schedule because of the docking delay, Todd added.
Instead of taking the day off as planned, the crew will do some work. A planned ISS software update for last night is going to be pushed “down the line”, Todd said, adding that the forthcoming SpaceX launch on Sunday and docking on Tuesday is still going ahead as planned.
We’ll provide more updates as the situation progresses. Docking is scheduled for 7:58 p.m. EDT (11:58 p.m. UTC) Thursday and will be covered on NASA Television.
Update, 10:13 p.m. EDT: Tonight’s docking with the International Space Station will not happen because one of the engine firings scheduled to happen did not take place when it was supposed to. The crew is safe, according to NASA, and going to a standard backup plan that should bring the craft to the station on Thursday (2 days from now). Roscosmos is examining the issue. We will provide updates as warranted.
Update, 6:43 p.m. EDT: The Soyuz is on its way to space after an on-time launch — and by the way, astronauts saw it leave from the space station! It’s en route and NASA is still expecting an arrival around 11:04 p.m. EDT., which you can watch live on NASA TV above.
Despite tensions on the ground between the United States and Russia, officials say that it’s business as usual on the International Space Station. The three people launching to space today, in fact, are from both countries: Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev of the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos), and Steve Swanson from NASA.
As has been the habit lately, the Expedition 39/40 crew will take a faster route to the International Space Station that see launch and docking happen in the same day, should all go to plan. It all begins with the launch at 5:17 p.m. EDT (9:17 p.m. UTC) from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, with docking scheduled to happen at 11:04 p.m. EDT (3:04 a.m. UTC).
Bear in mind that schedules are subject to change, so it’s a good idea to watch NASA TV (see video above) well before each milestone to see if things are happening on time. Once the crew arrives at station, one big question is if they’ll do spacewalks when they get there.
Spacewalks are planned for Expedition 40, but only if these urgent items are cleared in time for that. (That expedition begins in May and will include NASA astronauts Alex Gerst, Reid Wiseman and Russian cosmonaut Maxim Suraev.)
Seriously, how cool is this picture? The International Space Station crew caught an incredible view of their three future crewmates rocketing up to meet them today around 5:17 p.m. EDT (9:17 p.m. UTC).
Expedition 39’s Rick Mastracchio (from NASA) shared this on Twitter, casually mentioning that he will expect more crewmates to arrive later today. Upon the rocket were Steve Swanson (NASA), Alexander Skvortsov (Roscosmos) and Oleg Artemyev (Roscosmos).
Check out the launch video and some NASA pictures of the activities below the jump. (Update, 10:21 p.m. EDT: One of the engine firings did not take place as planned, meaning the astronauts will not dock with the station as planned tonight. The crew is safe and doing a standard backup plan that will bring them to the station on Thursday. We will provide updates as the situation progresses.)
Remember those snorkels and pads astronauts used during the ammonia pump replacement on station this past December? The new measures went a long way to helping astronauts stay safe if another helmet water leak happens, but at the same time, NASA is eager to find the cause so they know how it happened and how to prevent it.
Two maintenance spacewalks are planned for Expedition 40, but they’re not necessarily going forward yet. NASA has traced the issue to a fan pump separator, but there’s another issue, explained expedition commander Steve Swanson: where the particulates in the water came from. Perhaps they were from a filter, or perhaps from the water system itself. So NASA is reserving spacewalks on a need-only basis until more is known.
“That was the problem. Now, we’ve got to find out where that came from,” Swanson said in a phone interview with Universe Today from Houston to preview Expedition 39/40’s mission, which launches in late March. Joining the two-time shuttle astronaut will be two other people, including Alexander Skvortsov. The Russian cosmonaut commanded Expedition 24 in 2010, which experienced a similar ammonia leak to the one that was just repaired a few months ago.
While leaks and spacewalks are the items that grab headlines when it comes to spaceflight, one of the major goals of the International Space Station is more subtle. Researchers hope to understand how spaceflight affects the human body during long-duration missions. (This will be a major focus of a one-year mission to station in 2015.) Through a translator, Skvortsov explained that the recent decision to extend station’s operations to at least 2024 will be a help for research of this kind.
“It is great that they have expanded the station until 2024 at least, and it will be very beneficial to the science programs and projects we have on board,” he said in Russian. “I hope that it will be extended even further. It will depend on the condition of the station.”