(Image credit: RSC Energia)
A Russian Soyuz spacecraft will launch an American astronaut and two cosmonauts to the International Space Station early Friday (April 9) — and you’re able to watch it live online.
The Soyuz capsule carrying NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei, Oleg Novitskiy and Pyotr Dubrov is scheduled to start atop a Soyuz rocket from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan in 3: 42 a.m. EDT (0742 GMT or 12: 42 p.m. local time) on Friday to get a quick, three-hour ride to this International Space Station.
If everything goes according to plan, the trio’s spacecraft will dock with the space station around 7: 07 a.m. EDT (1107 GMT). Coverage of the event will begin at 6: 15 a.m. EDT (1015 GMT). NASA will also webcast the hatch opening and crew or flight controller remarks, which can be anticipated to happen around 8: 30 a.m. EDT (1230 GMT).
This assignment will be the second spaceflight for Vande Hei, the third for Soyuz commander Novitskiy and also the first for Dubrov.
NASA announced Vande Hei’s participation in this assignment just last month. Usually crewmembers to get long-duration space station assignments get years of note, however NASA fast-tracked Vande Hei after the bureau’s plans to shift to commercial team chances were complicated by continuing technical issues with Boeing’s Starliner astronaut taxi, which may delay that automobile’s first crewed flight to 2022.
(Like Boeing, SpaceX holds a contract using NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule is up and running and has carried two teams to the orbiting lab.)
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Vande Hei did have some notice of the flight ahead of the public announcement, he told Space.com within a private interview. “Me preparing for this flight was something we had done as a contingency, just in case we could get the seat,” he explained.
NASA usually buys seats aboard the Soyuz. But in this scenario, NASA and Roscosmos, Russia’s federal space agency, instead agreed to exchange chairs — Vande Hei’s on the Soyuz for a to-be-determined Roscosmos astronaut on a future commercial crew excursion. Flight assignments are still being determined as NASA works out the kinks with commercial team scheduling, and Vande Hei may thus invest annually as opposed to the normal six weeks in space. But that has not been completely decided yet.
“Things change and … we have to coordinate with the Russians, Roscosmos in particular, to figure out when to come back,” Vande Hei told Space.com.
His prior spaceflight lasted six months. So Vande Hei said he will look forward to some new”life experience” if he is tasked to remain aloft for a year.
The three-person Soyuz MS-18 crew will join seven Expedition 64 spaceflyers currently on the orbiting lab, which makes for one of the largest crews in recent memory. The seven individuals already there came on two spaceships this past year. A Soyuz brought NASA astronaut Kate Rubins and cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov to the station in October. Afterward, a SpaceX Crew Dragon delivered NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, and Shannon Walker, as well as Japan’s Soichi Noguchi, to the orbiting complex in November.
Friday’s launch will occur three days ahead of the 60th anniversary of the first human spaceflight, in the same region that hosted that historical liftoff. About April 12, 1961, the Soviet Union’s Yuri Gagarin started to Earth orbit from Baikonur. Russia’s space agency Roscosmos has called the Soyuz MS-18 spacecraft Gagarin after the famed cosmonaut.
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