Back in October, Nick Hague and Alexey Ovchinin were forced to abort their flight to the ISS mid-launch due to failure of proper booster separation. Thursday afternoon, as physicists around the world celebrated Pi-Day, there was even more cause for celebration.
Following on the heels of a successful launch of the unmanned SpaceX Dragon-Crew loaded with supplies for the ISS that took place last week; Alexey Ovchinin and Nick Hague found themselves, once again, aboard a Soyuz rocket, this time with a third crew member, Christina Koch.
This marks the third flight into space for Ovchinin, the second for Hague, and the first for NASA astronaut Koch.
At 3:14pm EST, the Soyuz MS-12 rocket carrying the trio of astronauts successfully launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Following an uneventful liftoff and four-orbit (six-hour) flight, the spacecraft docked to the station’s Rassvet module at 9:01pm.
The arrival of the trio restores the station’s crew compliment to six. Also aboard are Anne McClain of NASA, David Saint-Jacques of the Canadian Space Agency, and Commander Oleg Kononenko of Roscosmos.
For over 18 years, there has been a continued human presence on the station, as astronauts have lived and worked aboard in order to advance scientific knowledge and demonstrate new technologies. The zero-G environment allows for breakthroughs in research that are not possible on Earth, eventually enabling long-duration human and robotic exploration into deep space.
And this time is no different.
The new mission, Expedition 59, officially began for the crew at the time of docking. Crew members will spend the next six-months or so conducting roughly 250 science investigations in the fields of biology, Earth science, human research, physical sciences, and technology development.
Some of these investigations are sponsored by the U.S. National Laboratory, designated by Congress in 2005 to maximize its use for improving life on Earth. Highlights of these include devices that mimic the structure and function of human organs, free-flying robots, and an instrument that will measure Earth’s distribution of carbon dioxide.
Hague, Koch, McClain, and Saint-Jacques will begin preparations to venture outside the station’s Quest airlock for three planned spacewalks.
On March 22nd and 29th, spacewalks done in pairs will replace nickel-hydrogen batteries with newer, more the powerful lithium-ion ones (like those found in modern electronics) for power channels on one pair of the station’s solar arrays.
Then, on April 8th, the third spacewalk will be done to lay out jumper cables between the Unity module and the midpoint of the station’s backbone in order to establish a redundant power path to the Canadian-built robotic arm (Canadarm2) in order to enhance computer network capabilities.
While the astronauts work aboard the station, three resupply spacecraft—a Russian Progress, Northrop Grumman Cygnus, and SpaceX Dragon—are scheduled to arrive with science to support those investigations as well as additional supplies for the crew.
The crew will also be onboard during upcoming test flights of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, which hopes to return human spaceflight launches for space station missions to US soil.
McClain, Saint-Jacques, and Kononenko are scheduled to return to Earth in June, while Ovchinin, Hague, and Koch aren’t set to leave the station until early this fall.