STORY WRITTEN FOR CBS NEWS AND USED WITH PERMISSION
NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei and two Russian cosmonauts will ride the Soyuz ferry to the International Space Station early Friday, the first step in a record rotation of the crew that requires two launches and two landings with four different spacecraft in just three weeks.
The launch comes just three days before the 60th anniversary of the historic flight of cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin on April 12, 1961, who became the first man in space. Since then, more than 570 men and women have traveled, encouraging competition and then cooperation between Russia and the United States that culminated in the International Space Station.
“When we started, we competed with each other and that was one of the reasons we were so successful at the start of the human space flight,” Vande Hei told a news conference before the launch. “And as time went on, we realized that by working together we could achieve even more. This continues to this day and I hope it will continue in the future. ”
Starting the replacement of the station’s current seven-member crew, Vande Hei, Soyuz MS-18 / 64S commander Oleg Novitskiy and flight engineer Pyotr Dubrov are scheduled to launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 3:42 a.m. Friday (12:42 pm local time).
Climbing directly into the plane of the space station’s orbit, the Soyuz was expected to catch up with the space station in just two orbits, landing on the Earth-facing Light module at 7:07 p.m.
They will be welcomed by Commander Soyuz MS-17 / 63S Sergey Ryzhikov and his two crew members Sergey Kud-Sverchkov and Kate Rubins, along with SpaceX Crew-1 Dragon astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, Shannon Walker and Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi.
The expanded 10-member crew will enjoy being together for a week before Ryzhikov, Kud-Sverchkov and Rubins freak out and return to Earth in their own Soyuz, landing in the steppes of Kazakhstan at 00:56 EDT on April 17 to close the 185-day mission.
Five days later, at 6:11 a.m. on April 22, NASA and SpaceX plan to launch a Falcon 9 rocket and a Crew Dragon capsule from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to transport Crew-2 Commander Shane Kimbrough, Megan McArthur, Japan’s Akihiko Hoshide and ESA -in Thomas Pesquet to the station, briefly increasing the laboratory crew to 11.
After helping their replacements learn about station systems, SpaceX Crew-1 astronauts – Hopkins, Glover, Walker and Noguchi – will head home, splashing in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida on April 28 to complete a 164-day flight, the first operational mission. SpaceX Crew Dragon.
And with that, the replacement of the space station crew will be completed. Crew-2 astronauts and the Soyuz MS-18 / 64S crew are expected to be replaced in late September and mid-October, respectively.
But Vande Hei, a last-minute addition to the Union’s newest crew, doesn’t know when he’ll be able to get home. Although his flight was officially scheduled to last six months, he could eventually live on the space station for a full year.
This is because NASA managers want to guarantee a continued U.S. presence in the lab to make sure the ship is constantly trained by a properly trained NASA astronaut who operates U.S. systems, even if launches are interrupted or something forces a partial evacuation. .
“The plan is for me to be on the ship for six months,” said Vande Hei from Moscow in an interview for the launch of CBS News. “Of course, this is a very dynamic situation, so we try to be ready for everything. I definitely feel emotionally ready to stay in orbit longer than the planned six months. “
He added, “there are a number of things that could affect my return (but) I am also very confident that, no matter what happens, we will ensure a permanent U.S. presence on the space station.”
NASA wants to ensure the continuous launch of U.S. astronauts on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft and Russian cosmonauts on U.S. ferry ships, although the U.S. space agency has funded the development of commercial crew ships to end its full reliance on Russia for transportation to and from the station.
Russian cosmonauts are not trained to operate NASA’s solar system, computers, stabilizing gyroscopes and other systems. Likewise, American astronauts are equally unprepared for Russian propulsion, docking, and other critical systems.
If an ambulance or other crisis has forced a Russian or NASA crew to make an unplanned departure, the remaining crew members, trained to operate American or Russian systems – but not both – may not be able to maintain the station on their own.
Likewise, NASA wants to protect itself from the possibility of an accident during launch or a major technical problem that could interrupt or suspend crew rotation flights.
There are no seats available in the Alliance in the near future – Rubins used NASA’s last directly purchased seat – and in any case, NASA is no longer authorized to purchase rides on Russian spacecraft. Vanda Hei’s headquarters were obtained via Axiom Space from Houston in exchange for a future commercial astronaut flight on a NASA-sponsored ferry ship.
NASA managers hope to reach an agreement with the Russian space agency to ensure crew continuity at the station by launching at least one NASA astronaut on each Soyuz flight and one cosmonaut on each U.S. commercial crew mission.
Meanwhile, Vande Hei is ready to stay in orbit, no matter how long it takes for the place to open up.
“The position we take is that every step of this (mission) means that I am only so close to returning home, whether it is six months or longer than that,” he said. “My wife really has a fantastic attitude. I have arranged a job (but) for my family several times, this would set a record. “
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