Space station launch: Russian cosmonauts, NASA astronauts leave Earth on Friday

The Russian space agencies Roscosmos, the cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy and Pyotr Dubrov and the NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei will take off for the space station from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Friday.

The launch, docking and arrival of the new crew on the space station will be broadcast live on the NASA television channel and website. Launch is expected at 3:42 a.m. ET.

The crew will dock at the station at 7:07 a.m. CET, and the hatches between the Soyuz spacecraft and the station will open at around 9 a.m. CET.

This rapid trip to the space station, which includes two orbits of Earth and approximately three hours of travel time, was courtesy of the new Soyuz MS-18 spacecraft.

Their arrival increases the total number of crew members on the station to 10 residents.

Astronauts on the space station have prepared for the new crew by setting up additional sleeping stations and opening up ports.

Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov, along with NASA astronaut Kate Rubins, recently relocated the Soyuz MS-17 capsule from their port to make way for the latest crew, which will depart from Baikonur.

Ryzhikov, Kud-Sverchkov and Rubins arrived on the space station in the Soyuz capsule after taking off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan in October.

The crew members relocated their spaceship out of the Rassvet module, which has a port facing earth, and moved it to the Poisk docking port, which faces space, in March. This cleared the Rassvet module connector for the new crew and their Soyuz spacecraft MS-18.

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Rubins, Ryzhikov and Kud-Sverchkov will return to Earth on April 17th on the Soyuz MS-17 spacecraft.

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Members of the historic NASA-SpaceX Crew-1, including NASA astronauts Victor Glover Jr., Mike Hopkins, Shannon Walker and astronaut Soichi Noguchi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, who took off from the US for the space station in November, will also be after the launch of Crew-2 next month.

This second rotation with the NASA-SpaceX Crew Dragon starship will include NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, astronaut Akihiko Hoshide from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and astronaut Thomas Pesquet from the European Space Agency.

Crew-2, which could launch on April 22nd, will join Crew-1 on the space station before Crew-1 returns to Earth.

This is the second spaceflight for Vande Hei, the third for Novitskiy and the first for Dubrov.

Vande Hei was selected as an astronaut in 2009 and had his first spaceflight experience on the space station from September 2017 to February 2018. During his 168 days aboard the station, Vande Hei performed four spacewalks. This time around, Vande Hei and the crew will be working on several experiments, including studies on Alzheimer’s disease and portable ultrasound machines.

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Vande Hei’s flight on the Soyuz spacecraft is part of a contract with Axiom Space of Houston. In return, NASA will essentially secure a seat for a crew member on a non-NASA space station on a future commercial spacecraft launch in 2023.

While NASA is working with Boeing and SpaceX to ensure the safe transportation of the crew to and from the space station using U.S. launches, occupying a seat on the Soyuz means that there will always be at least one U.S. crew member on the space station.

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Its launch comes just three days before the 60th anniversary of the cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin’s launch as the first human in space, as well as before the 40th anniversary of the first NASA space shuttle launch.

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