NASA astronauts to launch Russian rockets as US transitions to civilian spacecraft

NASA astronauts to launch Russian rockets as US transitions to civilian spacecraft

A new crew of three astronauts was launched late tonight on the International Space Station, launching a Russian Soyuz rocket from Kazakhstan. The trio is heading for the base about a month before SpaceX’s next crew dragon launch, which will carry another four astronauts on the ISS in mid-November.

On this Soyuz flight, two Russian astronauts, Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov, and NASA’s astronaut Kate Rubins set out on a second space trip. The trio will join the three crew members living on the ISS from April: Russian astronauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Wagner, and NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy. However, their lifestyle will not last long. Cassidy and his astronaut crew will return to Earth on October 21 in a Soyuz capsule that brought them to the space station.

Just a few weeks later, in early to mid-November, Rubins and her team will welcome a crew of four, called Crew-1, SpaceX’s first operational Crew Dragon mission. The flight will take three NASA astronauts (Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, Shannon Walker) and Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi on the ISS for six months. The arrival of SpaceX’s new passenger car will increase the ISS’s total population to seven. This is usually a larger group than usual for the ISS with a six-seater crew after the end of the space shuttle programme.

Rubins’ flight from Soyuz takes place at a time when NASA’s human space flight program is transitioning. Since the last space shuttle’s last flight in 2011, the only way NASA astronauts could get to the station was the Russian Soyuz rocket. However, through NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, two private companies, SpaceX and Boeing, are developing their own space capsules to take NASA astronauts to the space station. Last May, when SpaceX delivered two NASA crew members to the ISS, it showed that the Crew Dragon spacecraft could safely take astronauts to the station. Boeing First crew test flight It is currently scheduled for next year.

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Soyuz Rocket unfolds toward the pad.
Image: NASA

SpaceX and Boeing’s vehicles were ready as early as 2017, but their development program was delayed for years. In the meantime, NASA continued to purchase Russian Soyuz seats for American astronauts. At about $80 million per person, the agency was trying to limit that amount, but I was hoping a commercial crew car could come online soon. NASA hoped they would be ready last year, but when more delays seemed imminent, the space agency purchased the last Soyuz seat. Rubins will be riding early tomorrow morning.

In the future, NASA hopes that Russian astronauts will be able to trade seats with NASA astronauts flying in Soyuz and with Roscosmos, which can ride SpaceX and Boeing vehicles in return. However, NASA has not yet announced such a deal, so it is unclear when the next American astronauts will fly aboard the Soyuz after performing this mission.

Soyuz is scheduled to take off from the Baikonur Cosmo Drom in Kazakhstan at 1:45 AM on Wednesday. It will be a quick trip to the ISS. The Soyuz capsule orbits Earth only twice for three hours in space before docking to the International Space Station. Docking will take place around 4:52 AM on Wednesday, and the crew must board the ISS within 2 hours.

NASA’s release coverage begins at 12:45 AM EST, so if you wake up late (or early), watch the Soyuz launch live.

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