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Rubio, Crewmates Put together for Busy Expedition 68

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Frank Rubio (left) will fly aboard Soyuz MS-22, shoulder to shoulder with Dmitri Petelin (middle) and Sergei Prokopyev. Photograph Credit score: NASA

Solely a day stays earlier than Frank Rubio turns into the primary NASA astronaut to launch beneath the phrases of the long-awaited U.S./Russian built-in crew settlement. Rubio, a 46-year-old Military doctor and helicopter pilot of Salvadoran heritage, will launch aboard Soyuz MS-22 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Wednesday, shoulder to shoulder with Russian cosmonauts Sergei Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin.

Video Credit score: NASA

Liftoff is focused for 9:54 a.m. EDT (6:54 p.m. native Baikonur time) on Wednesday, 21 September. An on-time launch will see Prokopyev, Petelin and Rubio dock on the Earth-facing (or “nadir”) port of the Worldwide Area Station (ISS) about three hours and two orbits later, to kick off a six-month keep on the sprawling orbital outpost.

The Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft—the barebones design of which extends again virtually six a long time to the Soviet period, having first carried people to orbit in April 1967—arrived at Baikonur for storage final December. Over the summer time months, customary pre-flight testing of the spacecraft entered excessive gear and Soyuz MS-22 was fueled on 8 September.

Frank Rubio is pictured throughout Expedition 68 coaching earlier this 12 months. Photograph Credit score: NASA

It was then mounted atop its Soyuz-2.1a booster and rolled out to Baikonur’s Web site 31/6 final Sunday to start remaining launch preparations. The crew composition for this mission has been a supply of nice hypothesis, with the rumor mill rife late final fall that Soyuz MS-22 and SpaceX’s Crew-5 may mark the beginning of the long-awaited built-in crew settlement between america and Russia.

Built-in crew functionality has lengthy been touted as inherently preferable by the Worldwide Companions (IPs). It envisages one U.S. astronaut aboard every Russian Soyuz and one Russian cosmonaut aboard every SpaceX Crew Dragon, with an expectation that Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner will even fold into the settlement sooner or later.

Video Credit score: NASA

It will guarantee the continual, year-round presence of no less than one U.S. and no less than one Russian programs specialist on the station’s U.S. Operational Section (USOS) and Russian Operational Section (ROS). And in flip that is anticipated to protect towards the chance {that a} delayed launch or touchdown or a untimely return to Earth of one in every of both nation’s spacecraft might depart one of many companions with no consultant on the ISS.

Such an eventuality has by no means but come to move. Since November 2000 and the arrival of Expedition 1, there has at all times been no less than one Russian and no less than one American on board. Within the station’s first couple of years, long-duration crews have been usually rotated by way of the Area Shuttle, with quick visiting missions switching Soyuz “lifeboats” each six months.

Rubio prepares for a flight in a T-38 Talon jet coach. Photograph Credit score: NASA

However following the lack of Columbia throughout her catastrophic STS-107 re-entry in February 2003, NASA started greater than a decade of reliance upon Russia, with no less than one U.S. astronaut aboard every Soyuz. And when the shuttle fleet retired in July 2011, Soyuz grew to become the principal technique of delivering NASA personnel to the outpost.

Russia’s monopoly started to wane in Might 2020, when SpaceX’s Crew Dragon got here on-line and common crew-rotation missions kicked off the next November. However late final 12 months, as Crew-2 ready for the arrival of their Crew-3 replacements and a “direct handover” of USOS personnel, Mom Nature unexpectedly intervened.

Frank Rubio prepares for a session of Extravehicular Exercise (EVA) coaching. Photograph Credit score: NASA

Two weeks of technical and climate delays, along with Crew-2 approaching the utmost on-orbit period of their Crew Dragon, necessitated a extremely undesirable “oblique handover”. As such, Crew-2 departed the station on 7 November, while Crew-3 launched three days later and arrived safely on the sprawling orbital outpost on the eleventh.

On this occasion, there was no absence of U.S. personnel, since NASA’s Mark Vande Hei had launched to the ISS with two Russian cosmonauts aboard Soyuz MS-18 the earlier April. However had he not been aboard, the oblique handover of USOS operations from Crew-2 to Crew-3 might need left a extremely undesirable hole in U.S. station crewing.

Video Credit score: NASA

Plans for built-in crew operations, unsurprisingly, needed to await Russia’s acceptance of Crew Dragon as a protected and dependable car, however the possibilities of the settlement bearing fruit hung very a lot within the steadiness earlier in 2022, following President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and the resultant to-and-fro of financial sanctions between East and West. Issues weren’t aided by some notably bellicose Twitter rhetoric from Roscosmos head Dmitri Rogozin, who was relieved of his publish and changed by Russia’s former deputy prime minister, Yuri Borisov, in July.

On the very day of Rogozin’s departure, NASA and Roscosmos formally inked the long-awaited built-in crew operations settlement. Beneath its phrases, Russia’s Prokopyev and Petelin could be joined by Rubio on Soyuz MS-22.

Loral O’Hara and Frank Rubio take part in Extravehicular Exercise (EVA) coaching on the Johnson Area Heart (JSC) in Houston, Texas. Photograph Credit score: NASA

In trade for Rubio’s place aboard Soyuz MS-22, Russian cosmonaut Anna Kikina will fly alongside U.S. astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada and Japan’s Koichi Wakata aboard Dragon Endurance for the Crew-5 mission, set to launch from historic Pad 39A on the Kennedy Area Heart (KSC) in Florida no sooner than 3 October. Kikina will change into Russia’s fifth girl in house, after pioneering Valentina Tereshkova, the primary feminine spacewalker Svetlana Savitskaya, the primary long-duration feminine house station resident Yelena Kondakova and seasoned ISS veteran Yelena Serova.

Earlier this spring, earlier than the built-in crew settlement was confirmed, Rubio and his backup, fellow astronaut Loral O’Hara have been pictured taking part in Soyuz winter survival and emergency evacuation drills close to the cosmonauts’ coaching middle at Star Metropolis, on the forested outskirts of Moscow. Along with their respective Russian crewmates, they accomplished remaining coaching exams final month and traveled to Moscow’s Pink Sq. to put flowers on the Kremlin Wall.

Stunning view of the Bahamas, as seen by an Expedition 67 crew member. Photograph Credit score: NASA

On 5 September, the 2 crews—the prime crew of Prokopyev, Petelin and Rubio and their backups, Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kononenko, Nikolai Chub and O’Hara—arrived at Baikonur for the ultimate couple of weeks earlier than launch. In accordance with custom, Petelin and Rubio every planted a tree within the ceremonial Avenue of Cosmonauts. And in addition in line with custom (and to avert unhealthy luck) solely the backup crew was permitted to view Soyuz MS-22 throughout final weekend’s rollout to the pad.

Tomorrow morning, Prokopyev—a veteran of a six-month ISS mission again in 2018—will assume the middle commander’s sofa aboard Soyuz MS-22, with Petelin within the Flight Engineer-1 seat on the left aspect of the cockpit and Rubio within the Flight Engineer-2 seat on the fitting aspect. Liftoff is focused for 9:54 a.m. EDT (6:54 p.m. native time) and it’s anticipated that Soyuz MS-22 will comply with a three-hour and two-orbit “quick rendezvous” to achieve the house station. Docking is anticipated at 1:11 p.m. EDT.

The Soyuz MS-21 spacecraft, pictured throughout its six-month keep on the ISS. Photograph Credit score: NASA

The brand new arrivals can be welcomed aboard the ISS by Expedition 67 Commander Oleg Artemyev, his Russian crewmates Sergei Korsakov and Denis Matveev, U.S. astronauts Kjell Lindgren, Bob “Farmer” Hines and Jessica Watkins and Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti. Late subsequent week, Artemyev will hand command to Cristoforetti, who turns into the primary European girl to helm the station.

Artemyev, Korsakov and Matveev will return to Earth aboard their Soyuz MS-21 craft on 29 September, wrapping up greater than 195 days in house. Upon their departure, Expedition 68 will start, initially beneath Cristoforetti’s command.

The Expedition 68 crew poses for {a photograph} throughout coaching. From left to proper are Frank Rubio, Josh Cassada, Koichi Wakata, Nicole Mann, Anna Kikina, Dmitri Petelin and Commander Sergei Prokopyev. Photograph Credit score: NASA

No earlier than 3 October, Dragon Endurance will ship Crew-5’s Mann, Cassada, Wakata and Kikina to the station. And about 5 days later Lindgren, Hines, Watkins and Cristoforetti will return to Earth aboard their Dragon Freedom craft, concluding a 5.5-month ISS keep.

With the departure of Cristoforetti et. al., command of the second a part of Expedition 68 will move to Prokopyev, who will lead the ISS by way of his personal return to Earth in late March 2023. And the projected 188-day keep of Prokopyev, Petelin and Rubio is predicted to be a busy one for station operations.

Boeing Crew Flight Check (CFT) astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams in T-38 pre-flight actions at Ellington Subject. Photograph Credit score: NASA

As much as ten crewed and uncrewed visiting automobiles are anticipated throughout Expedition 68, together with two Russian Progress freighters, two SpaceX Cargo Dragons, two Northrop Grumman Corp. Cygnuses and Japan’s upgraded H-II Switch Automobile (HTV-X1). There’s additionally potential for Expedition 68 to welcome NASA astronauts Barry “Butch” Wilmore and Suni Williams once they arrive on the Crew Flight Check (CFT) of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner and maybe additionally the second AxiomSpace mission, commanded by America’s most skilled spacefarer, Peggy Whitson.

And as many as 5 Russian classes of Extravehicular Exercise (EVA) and maybe as much as 4 U.S. spacewalks are deliberate across the finish of the 12 months. Their targets embody the continued outfitting of Russia’s Nauka (“Science”) lab, which arrived on station final summer time, and the set up of mounting brackets and different {hardware} related to the following set of ISS Roll-Out Photo voltaic Arrays (iROSAs).

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