After much speculation and concern the past month whether Russia would allow a US astronaut to ride back to Earth in a Soyuz spacecraft, Mark Vande Hei and two cosmonauts landed safely in Kazakhstan on March 30.
Mostly lost amid the political tensions due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Vande Hei quietly set a record for the longest single spaceflight by an American, at 355 days. Vande Hei eclipsed astronaut Scott Kelly’s seemingly more heralded long-duration mission on the International Space Station in 2015, when he and Cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko spent 340 days in space. Cosmonaut Pyotr Dubrov also spent 355 days on his first spaceflight, along with Vande Hei.
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.
The International Space Station’s usual complement of six astronauts grew by 50% recently, making things a little crowded up there. The nine astronauts come from four separate space agencies, and for the first time, an astronaut from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is onboard the ISS.
The ISS is a multicultural place. Astronauts from around the world serve on the station to advance the scientific goals of humanity and to build cooperative ties between Earth’s different peoples. It’s kind of like Star Trek, but in space.
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The Soyuz MS-10 spacecraft carrying crew to the ISS was aborted shortly after launch on Thursday, Oct. 11th when its booster failed. The spacecraft executed an emergency ballistic landing with a sharp angle of descent. Both crew members on board—American astronaut Nick Hague and Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin—exited the capsule safely and are in good condition.
NASA’s Peggy Whitson, America’s most experienced astronaut, returned to Earth safely and smiling Sunday morning on the steppes of Kazakhstan, concluding her record-breaking stay in space aboard the International Space Station (ISS) along with Soyuz crewmates Jack Fischer of NASA and Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin of Roscosmos.
The multinational trio touched down softly on Earth inside their Soyuz MS-04 descent capsule on Saturday evening, Sept. 2 at 9:21 p.m. EDT (shortly after sunrise 7:21 a.m. Kazakhstan time, Sept. 3), some 90 miles southeast of the remote town of Dzhezkazgan in Kazakhstan.
Whitson wrapped up a 288-day extended mission in obviously good health that began in November 2016, spanning 122.2 million miles and 4,623 orbits of Earth – completing her third long-duration stay on the orbiting science outpost spanning Expeditions 50, 51 and 52.
“A flawless descent and landing,” said NASA commentator Rob Navias during the live NASA TV coverage of the return of the ISS Expedition 52 crew Saturday afternoon and evening US time.
“The crew is back on Earth safe and sound.”
She has now accrued a total of 665 days in space – more than any American astronaut – over the course of her illustrious career during which she set multiple U.S. space records spanning a total of three spaceflights.
Whitson’s 665 total accumulated days in space places her eighth on the all-time space endurance list – just 8 days behind her Russian crewmate and Soyuz Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin who now ranks 7th on the all-time list with 673 days in space on his five flights. She has exceeded the endurance record of her next closest NASA competitor by 131 days – namely NASA astronaut Jeff Williams.
The remarkable 57-year-old Ph.D biochemist by training has spent nearly 2 years of her entire life in space and she holds several other prestigious records as well – including more accumulated time in space than any other woman and the longest single spaceflight by a women – 288 days!
During this mission Whitson became the first woman to serve twice as space station commander. Indeed in 2008 Whitson became the first woman ever to command the space station during her prior stay on Expedition 16 a decade ago. Her second stint as station commander this mission began earlier this year on April 9.
Whitson also holds the record for the most spacewalks and the most time spent spacewalking by a female astronaut. Altogether she has accumulated 60 hours and 21 minutes of EVA time over ten spacewalks -ranking her third most experienced in the world.
Notably Soyuz Commander Yurchikhin ranks fourth in spacewalking experience. Only Russia’s Anatoly Solovyev and NASA’s Michael Lopez-Alegria have more spacewalking time to their credit.
NASA’s Jack Fischer completed his rookie spaceflight accumulating 136 days in space aboard the ISS.
Whitson originally launched to the ISS on Nov 17, 2016 aboard the Russian Soyuz MS-03 spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, as part of the three person Expedition 50 crew including flight engineers Oleg Novitskiy of Roscosmos and Thomas Pesquet of ESA (European Space Agency).
Her flight was unexpectedly extended in flight after the Russian government decided to cut back on the number of space station crew cosmonauts this year from three to two to save money. Thus a return seat became available on this Soyuz MS-04 return flight after NASA negotiated an extension with Rosmoscos in April enabling Whitson to remain on board the orbiting outpost an additional three months beyond her than planned June return home.
Whitson’s mission extension proved to be a boon for NASA and science research enabling the US/partner USOS crew complement to be enlarged from three to four full time astronauts much earlier than expected. This allowed NASA to about double the weekly time devoted to research aboard station – a feat not expected to happen until America’s commercial crew vehicles, namely Boeing Starliner and SpaceX Crew Dragon – finally begin inaugural launches next year from the Kennedy Space Center in mid-2018.
Descending dramatically while hanging below a single gigantic orange-and-white parachute the scorched Russian Soyuz vehicle fired its braking rockets just moments before touchdown in Kazakhstan to cushion the crew for a gentle landing under beautifully sunny skies.
A live NASA TV video feed captured the thrilling descent for over 14 minutes after the main parachute deployed all the way to the ground under clear blue sunny Sunday morning weather conditions and comfortably local Kazakh temperatures of 77 degrees F.
“Everything today went in perfect fashion from the undocking, to the deorbit burn to landing,” said Navias. “It went by the book with no issues.”
“We saw a spectacular 14 minute long live video of the Soyuz descent and landing.”
Russian search and recovery forces quickly arrived via a cluster of MI-8 helicopters after the soft landing to begin their normal procedures to extract the three Expedition 52 crew members from their cramped Soyuz descent module.
Soyuz Commander Yurchikhin in the center seat was hauled out first, followed by Fischer in the left side seat and lastly Whitson in the right seat. All 3 were placed on reclining seats sitting side by side and appeared quite well, conversing and speaking via satellite phones.
A group of Russian and US medical teams were on hand to check the astronauts and cosmonauts health and help the crewmates begin readapting to the tug of Earth’s gravity they have not experienced after many months of weightlessness in space.
Whitson’s final planned news conference from space with the media to sum up her experiences this past Wednesday had to be cancelled due to the catastrophic flooding events from Hurricane Harvey impacting Houston and elsewhere in Texas – including Mission Control which was forced to close multiple days.
The crews had bid their final farewells earlier and closed the hatches between the Soyuz and station at 2:40 p.m. EDT Saturday.
After conducting final spacecraft systems checks the trio unhooked the latches and undocked from the International Space Station at 5:58 p.m. EDT to begin their voyage home through the scorching heats of reentry in the Earth’s atmosphere that reached over 2500 degrees F (1400 degrees C) on the outside.
“While living and working aboard the world’s only orbiting laboratory, Whitson and Fischer contributed to hundreds of experiments in biology, biotechnology, physical science and Earth science, welcomed several cargo spacecraft delivering tons of supplies and research experiments, and conducted a combined six spacewalks to perform maintenance and upgrades to the station,” said NASA.
“Among their scientific exploits, Whitson and Fischer supported research into the physical changes to astronaut’s eyes caused by prolonged exposure to a microgravity environment. They also conducted a new lung tissue study that explored how stem cells work in the unique microgravity environment of the space station, which may pave the way for future stem cell research in space.”
“Additional research included an antibody investigation that could increase the effectiveness of chemotherapy drugs for cancer treatment, and the study of plant physiology and growth in space using an advanced plant habitat. NASA also attached the Cosmic Ray Energetics and Mass Investigation (ISS CREAM) on the outside of the space station in August, which is now observing cosmic rays coming from across the galaxy.”
ISS Expedition 53 began at the moment of undocking from the space station, now under the command of veteran NASA astronaut Randy Bresnik since the official change of command ceremony on Friday.
Along with his crewmates Sergey Ryazanskiy of Roscosmos and Paolo Nespoli of ESA (European Space Agency), the three-person crew will operate the station for the next 10 days until the imminent arrival of three new crew members.
The station will get back to a full complement of six crewmembers after the upcoming Sept. 12 launch and fast track 4 orbit 6 hour docking of NASA astronauts Mark Vande Hei and Joe Acaba of NASA and Alexander Misurkin of Roscosmos aboard the next Soyuz MS-06 spacecraft departing from the Baikonur Cosmodrome, Kazakhstan.
An all veteran multinational trio of astronauts and cosmonauts rocketed to orbit aboard a Russian Soyuz capsule and safely arrived at the International Space Station (ISS) after a fast track rendezvous on Friday, July 28.
NASA astronaut Randy Bresnik, Sergey Ryazanskiy of Roscosmos and Paolo Nespoli of ESA (European Space Agency) docked at the orbiting outpost at 5:54 p.m. EDT (2154 GMT) Friday just six hours after departing our Home Planet.
The three crewmates launched aboard the Russian Soyuz MS-05 spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan during a typically hot mid-summers night at 9:41 p.m. Baikonur time, or 11:41 a.m. EDT, 1541 GMT, as the booster and Baikonur moved into the plane of the space station’s orbit. They blasted to space from the same pad as Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space.
The entire launch sequence aboard the Soyuz rocket performed flawlessly and delivered the Soyuz capsule to its targeted preliminary orbit flowing by the planned opening of the vehicles solar arrays and antennas.
Following a rapid series of orbit raising maneuvers, the Soyuz reached the ISS after 4 orbits and six hours to successfully complete all the rendezvous and docking procedures.
The Soyuz docked at the Earth-facing Russian Rassvet module as the spaceships were flying some 250 mi (400 km) over Germany.
Following the standard pressurization and leak checks, the hatches between the spacecraft and station were opened from inside the ISS at about 9:45 p.m. EDT.
The new trio of Bresnik, Ryazanskiy and Nespoli then floated one by one from the Soyuz into the station and restored the outpost to a full strength crew of six humans.
The veteran space flyers join Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin of Roscosmos and Flight Engineers Peggy Whitson and Jack Fischer of NASA who are already serving aboard.
Thus begins Expedition 52 aboard the million pound orbiting science complex.
This is the second space flight for both Bresnik and Ryazanskiy and the third for Nespoli.
Bresnik previously flew to the space station as a member of the STS-129 space shuttle Atlantis mission in November 2009. The 10 day mission delivered two Express Logistics Carriers (ELC racks) to the space station as part of approximately 30,000 pounds of replacement parts.
Bresnik performed two spacewalks for a total of 11 hours and 50 minutes during the STS-129 mission. He is slated to take command of the ISS as a member of Expedition 53.
The new Expedition 52 crew will spend a four and a half month stint aboard the station and continue over 250 ongoing science investigations in fields such as biology, Earth science, human research, physical sciences and technology development.
Bresnik, Ryazanskiy and Nespoli are slated to stay aboard until returning to Earth in December.
Whitson, Fischer and Yurchikhin are in the home stretch of their mission and will retun to Earth in September. Shortly after their departure, NASA astronauts Mark Vande Hei and Joseph Acaba and Russian cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin will launch on the next Soyuz from Kazakhstan to join the Expedition 53 crew.
She most recently launched to the ISS last year on Nov 17, 2016 aboard a Russian Soyuz capsule from the Baikonur Cosmodrome. This is her 3rd long duration stay aboard the station.
Whitson also holds the record for most spacewalks by a female astronaut. Altogether she has accumulated 53 hours and 23 minutes of EVA time over eight spacewalks.
The newly-expanded Expedition 52 crew expect to welcome a pair of unmanned US cargo ships carrying new research experiments and supplies, namely the SpaceX Dragon as soon as August and Orbital ATK Cygnus a month or two later, on NASA-contracted commercial resupply missions.
The SpaceX CRS-12 mission will carry investigations ”the crew will work on including a study developed by the Michael J. Fox Foundation of the pathology of Parkinson’s disease to aid in the development of therapies for patients on Earth. The crew will use the special nature of microgravity in a new lung tissue study to advance understanding of how stem cells work and pave the way for further use of the microgravity environment in stem cell research. Expedition astronauts also will assemble and deploy a microsatellite investigation seeking to validate the concept of using microsatellites in low-Earth orbit to support critical operations, such as providing lower-cost Earth imagery in time-sensitive situations such as tracking severe weather and detecting natural disasters.”
Watch for Ken’s onsite space mission reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.
KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – A new Russian/American duo has arrived at the International Space Station this morning, April 20, after a six-hour flight following their successful launch aboard a Russian Soyuz capsule on a fast track trajectory to the orbiting outpost.
The two person international crew comprising NASA astronaut Jack Fischer and cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin of the Russian space agency Roscosmos launched aboard a Russian Soyuz MS-04 spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 3:13 a.m. (1:13 p.m. Baikonur time).
After orbiting the Earth just four times on a planned accelerated trajectory they reached the station six hours later and safely docked at the station at 9:18 a.m. EDT.
“We have contact and capture confirmed at the space station at 9:18 am EDT,” said the NASA Houston mission control commentator.
The station and Soyuz vehicles were flying some 250 mi (400 km) over the northern Atlantic at the time of docking.
The dynamic duo of Yurchikhin and Fischer join three Expedition 51 crew members already onboard – Expedition 51 Commander Peggy Whitson of NASA and Flight Engineers Oleg Novitskiy of Roscosmos and Thomas Pesquet of ESA (European Space Agency).
Thus the overall station crew complement of astronauts and cosmonauts increases to five – from the US, Russia and France – representing their respective space agencies and countries.
Jack Fisher is a rookie space flyer whereas Yurchikhin is an accomplished veteran on this his 5th mission to orbit.
Prior to docking the crew accomplished an approximately 10 min flyaround inside the Soyuz shortly before sunrise and beautyfully backdropped by earth towards the end at a distance of roughly several hundred meters away.
All Soyuz systems performed as planned for what was an entirely automated rendezvous and docking using the Russian KURS docking system. The crew could have intervened if needed.
The new pair of Expedition 51 crew members will spend about four and a half months aboard the station during their increment.
They will be very busy conducting approximately 250 science investigations in fields such as biology, Earth science, human research, physical sciences and technology development.
And there will be no time to rest! Because this week’s just launched unpiloted ‘SS John Glenn’ Cygnus resupply ship is eagerly awaiting its chance to join the station and deliver nearly 4 tons of science experiment, gear and crew provisions to stock the station and further enhance its research output.
Orbital ATK’s seventh Cygnus cargo delivery flight to the station – dubbed OA-7 or CRS-7 – launched at 11:11 a.m. EDT Tuesday, April 18 atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
The SS John Glenn is expected to arrive at the station early Saturday morning on April 22.
Expedition 51 astronauts Thomas Pesquet of ESA and Peggy Whitson of NASA will use the space station’s Canadian-built robotic arm to grapple Cygnus, about 6:05 a.m. Saturday.
They will use the arm to maneuver and berth the unmanned vehicle to the Node-1 Earth-facing nadir port on the Unity module.
“Investigations arriving will include an antibody investigation that could increase the effectiveness of chemotherapy drugs for cancer treatment and an advanced plant habitat for studying plant physiology and growth of fresh food in space,” says NASA.
“Another new investigation bound for the U.S. National Laboratory will look at using magnetized cells and tools to make it easier to handle cells and cultures, and improve the reproducibility of experiments. Cygnus also is carrying 38 CubeSats, including many built by university students from around the world, as part of the QB50 program. The CubeSats are scheduled to deploy from either the spacecraft or space station in the coming months.”
Cygnus will remain at the space station for about 85 days until July before its destructive reentry into Earth’s atmosphere, disposing of several thousand pounds of trash.
Watch for Ken’s onsite launch reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.
Comings and goings continue apace on the International Space Station! After living and working fruitfully for six months in space aboard the ISS, an international trio of astronauts and cosmonauts including NASA’s Shane Kimbrough departed the orbiting lab complex aboard their Soyuz capsule and plummeted back safely through the Earth’s atmosphere to a soft touchdown in Kazahkstan on Monday- as NASA meanwhile targets liftoff of the next US resupply ship a week from today.
These are busy times indeed with regular flights to low Earth orbit and back to maintain and enhance the scientific research aboard the multinationally built and funded million pound orbiting outpost.
ISS Expedition 50 came to a glorious end for Commander Shane Kimbrough of NASA and Flight Engineers Sergey Ryzhikov and Andrey Borisenko of the Russian space agency Roscosmos as they returned to Earth Monday, April 10 in Kazakhstan aboard their Soyuz spacecraft after spending 173 days aloft in the weightless environment of space.
The Russian Soyuz MS-02 capsule touched down safely by making a parachute assisted landing in Kazakhstan at approximately 7:20 a.m. EDT (5:20 p.m. Kazakhstan time).
The three person crew comprising Kimbrough, Ryzhikov and Andrey Borisenko landed southeast of the remote town of Dzhezkazgan in Kazakhstan.
Meanwhile as the trio were landing, NASA is targeting launch of the next commercial cargo ship for blastoff on April 18 with more than three tons of science and supplies to stock the station for the Expedition 51 crew.
Christened the ‘S.S. John Glenn’ to honor legendary NASA astronaut John Glenn – the first American to orbit the Earth back in February 1962 – the next Orbital ATK Cygnus cargo ship heading to the space station will launch on a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
Liftoff of the S.S. John Glenn from NASA commercial cargo provider Orbital ATK on their seventh commercial resupply services mission to the ISS is slated for 11 a.m. EDT Tuesday, April 18.
John Glenn was selected as one of NASA’s original seven Mercury astronauts chosen at the dawn of the space age in 1959. He recently passed away on December 8, 2016 at age 95.
During their time in orbit, the Expedition 50 crew members contributed to hundreds of experiments in biology, biotechnology, physical science and Earth science aboard the world-class orbiting laboratory.
“For example, the Microgravity Expanded Stem Cells investigation had crew members observe cell growth and other characteristics in microgravity. Results from this investigation could lead to the treatment of diseases and injury in space, and provide a way to improve stem cell production for medical therapies on Earth,” said NASA.
“The Tissue Regeneration-Bone Defect study, a U.S. National Laboratory investigation sponsored by the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) and the U.S. Army Medical Research and Materiel Command, studied what prevents vertebrates, such as rodents and humans, from regenerating lost bone and tissue, and how microgravity conditions impact the process. Results will provide a new understanding of the biological reasons behind a human’s inability to regrow a lost limb at the wound site, and could lead to new treatment options for the more than 30 percent of the patient population who do not respond to current options for chronic, non-healing wounds.”
Kimbrough, Ryzhikov and Andrey Borisenko served as members of the Expedition 49 and 50 crews onboard the International Space Station during their 173 days in orbit.
During two flights Kimbrough has now amassed 189 days in space. During his two flights Borisenko now totals 337 days in space. Rookie Ryzhikov logged 173 days in space.
They leave behind another trio of crewmates who will continue as Expedition 51; namely NASA astronaut and new station commander Peggy Whitson, Oleg Novitskiy of Roscosmos and Thomas Pesquet of ESA (European Space Agency).
The next manned Soyuz launch will carry just two crewmembers. Due to Russian funding cutbacks only 1 cosmonaut will launch. The crew comprises Jack Fischer of NASA and Fyodor Yurchikhin of Roscosmos. They are scheduled to launch Thursday, April 20 from Baikonur, Kazakhstan.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news.
Roscosmos has certainly come a long way in the past few decades. After facing an uncertain future in the 1990s, the federal space agency has rebounded to become a major player in space and a crucial partner in the International Space Station. And in the coming years, Roscosmos hopes to expand its reach further, with missions planned to the Moon and even Mars.
Towards this end, on Tuesday, March 14th, the agency announced that it is conducting a recruitment drive for new cosmonauts. All are welcome, the agency stressed, to apply to become the next-generation of space explorers (provided they meet the criteria). And if all goes as planned, a few lucky applicants will be the first members of the Russian space program to “fly to the Moon.”
Understandably, Roscosmos is hoping to jump start its space exploration program again and recapture the momentum it enjoyed during the Soviet Era. In addition to Sputnik and sending the first man and woman into space (as part of the Vostok program), the Soviet space program also produced a reusable spacecraft by the 1980s that was similar to the Space Shuttle (known as the Buran program).
Unfortunately, with budget cuts during this decade and the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, several changes had to be made. For one, Roscosmos needed to turn to commercial satellite launches and space tourism in order to make up the difference in its funding. In addition, some observers have cited how Russia’s financial commitment to the ISS has had a detrimental effect on other programs.
It is little wonder then why Russian wants to embark on some serious missions in the coming decades, ones which will reestablish it as a leader in space exploration. Intrinsic to this is a proposed crewed mission to the Moon, which is scheduled to take place in 2031. Roscosmos has also been developing the next-generation spacecraft that will replace the Soyuz-TMA, which has been the workhorse of the space program since the Soviet era.
Known as the the Federatsiya (Federation) capsule, this vehicle is scheduled to make its first crewed flight to space sometime in 2023 from the Vostochny cosmodrome in the Russian far east. As you can see from the images, it bears a striking resemblance to the Orion capsule. Unveiled at the 12th International Aviation and Space Salon in Moscow (MAKS-2015), this capsule will carry the first Russian cosmonauts to the Moon.
All they need now is fresh blood to make the journey. Hence why they are conducting their first recruitment drive in five years, which is the second drive to be is open to all people – not just military pilots, but also those working in the space industry. This time around, Roscosmos is looking for 6 to 8 new recruits who will train in how to fly the next-generation spaceships and make Russia’s long-awaited lunar landing.
As Sergei Kiralyov (Roscosmos’ Executive Director of Manned Programs) was quoted by RIA Novosti as saying, “There will be no discrimination based on skin colour or gender.” The criteria for these applicants include an age limit of 35, a height of between 1 m 50 cm – 1 m 90 cm (4’11” and 6’2″), and a weight of no more than 90 kilograms (~198 pounds).
The criteria also stress physical fitness, and claim that applicants must be able to cross-country ski for 5 km (~3 mi). They must also pass a series of psychological and physical tests (which include gynaecological examinations for women). In terms of skills, Roscosmos is seeking individuals who have an engineering degree, pilot training, experience in the aviation industry, and IT skills. Knowledge of a foreign language is also a plus (other than Russian, of course!).
“Recruitment of cosmonauts will take place starting from today, March 14, will take place before the end of the year. The results would be summed up in the end of December,” said Roscosmos’ First Deputy Director General Alexander Ivanov. Roscosmos also stressed that all those who are interested must apply by post or in person at the Star City astronaut training center outside Moscow (with three passport-sized photos included).
So if you speak Russian, are interesting in becoming part of the next-generation of cosmonauts, meet the requirements, or just want to go to the Moon, you might want to consider throwing your hat into the ring! Down the road, Roscosmos also has plans to conduct crewed missions to Mars between 2040 and 2060. These are expected to take place only after missions to the Moon are complete, which may include the creation of a lunar outpost.