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Expedition 34 “Aims High” With Launch of Second Canadian Long-Duration Resident

Bearing the representatives of three nations—Canada, Russia, and the United States—the Soyuz TMA-07M spacecraft begins its journey into orbit on 19 December 2012. Photo Credit: NASA

It has been almost two decades since I received a signed portrait of Chris Hadfield, who is presently en-route to the International Space Station as its second long-duration Canadian resident. In mid-March, after three months as a flight engineer on Expedition 34, he will take command of the multi-national outpost, becoming the first of his countrymen to do so. As a teenager, I was a voracious collector of astronaut autographs and wrote to Hadfield shortly after his STS-74 Shuttle mission to the Mir space station. The photograph that I received was inscribed with a dedication and the inspiring legend: “Aim High…The Sky is Not the Limit.” Since his selection as a Canadian member of NASA’s astronaut corps in March 1992, to his first Shuttle flight in November 1995 as the only Canadian ever to fly aboard Mir, to becoming the first Canadian spacewalker in April 2001, to becoming the first Canadian to command the grandest engineering accomplishment in human history, Chris Hadfield has done just that.

Hadfield and his crewmates Roman Romanenko of Russia and NASA’s Tom Marshburn roared into the cold skies of Baikonur, on the remote steppe of Kazakhstan, at 4:12:36 pm local time (7:12:36 am EST), aboard a direct descendant of the Soyuz craft created by Chief Designer Sergei Korolev and atop a direct descendant of the booster which has launched every Soviet and Russian crew since the 1960s. The vehicle was rolled out to its pad two days ago, in conditions which astronaut Mike Fossum described on his Twitter page as hovering at -25 degrees Fahrenheit. Yesterday, the State Commission confirmed Romanenko, Hadfield, and Marshburn as the prime crew for the flight of Soyuz TMA-07M, with Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin, Italy’s Luca Parmitano, and NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg as their backups.

Soyuz TMA-07M crewmen Chris Hadfield (top), Tom Marshburn (center), and Roman Romanenko prepare to board their spacecraft on the morning of 19 December 2012, wearing new thermal garments over their Sokol launch and entry suits. Photo Credit: NASA

Earlier today, the prime crew arrived at the pad, wearing their Sokol launch and entry suits, but looking somewhat different in a new thermal over-garment, which imbued them with an even greater resemblance to snowmen—fitting, perhaps, in view of the mid-winter timing of their journey into orbit. As the final checks of the vehicle proceeded crisply, music was piped into the Soyuz cabin, including Depeche Mode’s 1990 signature track, Enjoy the Silence. With two minutes to go, the final pressurisation of the propellant tanks took place and Romanenko—who commanded the Soyuz from its center seat—performed his final systems checks. Sixty seconds ahead of liftoff, the giant rocket was transferred to its internal power supplies and liftoff occurred spectacularly and without incident. In less than ten minutes, it was confirmed that Soyuz TMA-07M was in orbit and that its electricity-generating solar arrays and antennas had been successfully deployed.

Docking at the station’s Earth-facing Rassvet Mini-Research Module is anticipated at 2:10 pm GMT (9:10 am EST) on Friday and will boost Expedition 34 up to its full six-man strength. Anxiously awaiting the arrival of Hadfield, Romanenko, and Marshburn are Expedition 34 Commander Kevin Ford of NASA and his Russian crewmates, Oleg Novitsky and Yevgeni Tarelkin, who have been in orbit since late October. They watched today’s launch from a laptop aboard the station.

Upon their arrival, the six-man Expedition 34 team will undertake an expanded program of scientific research, although the planned January arrival of SpaceX’s second dedicated Dragon cargo craft, under its $1.6 billion Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) contract with NASA, has been postponed until at least the beginning of March. This follows a lengthy investigation following the engine-out anomaly suffered during the CRS-1 ascent on 7 October. Less than two weeks after the arrival of Dragon at the station for its month-long stay, Ford, Novitsky, and Tarelkin will return to Earth. Their undocking and departure aboard Soyuz TMA-06M is currently scheduled for 15 March and will herald the official start of Expedition 35, under Hadfield’s command.

In his pre-flight interview, he explained that he will learn a great deal from his ‘apprenticeship’ under Kevin Ford between now and then. “I don’t have to jump in and be full-speed, running, and take over right away,” Hadfield said. “I can do a bunch of on-the-job training. I can ‘fleet-up’, as they say in the Navy, and I can be a flight engineer, answerable to the commander, and listen to all the ways that Kevin has decided. There’s always subtle differences, so I will have three months to really learn how Kevin’s running things and look at it.” Then, in the hours before the departure of Ford and his men, Hadfield will participate in a formal change-of-command ceremony. Two weeks later, on 28 March, the second half of Hadfield’s Expedition 35 crew—Russian cosmonauts Pavel Vinogradov and Aleksandr Misurkin and NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy—will blast off from Baikonur, aboard Soyuz TMA-08M, bound for the station. A key difference over earlier missions will be that  this crew will follow a six-hour ‘fast-rendezvous’ profile, first trialled by the unmanned Progress M-16M resupply craft last August.

The undocking of the CRS-2 Dragon and an EVA from the Russian segment by cosmonauts Vinogradov and Romanenko will follow in April, after which Europe’s fourth Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV-4)—named in honour of physicist Albert Einstein—will arrive at the station on 1 May. The return to Earth of Hadfield, Romanenko, and Marshburn is expected to occur on 14 May, and the Soyuz TMA-07M descent module will touch down in north-central Kazakhstan, after a 146-day flight.

Rollout of the Soyuz TMA-07M vehicle in darkness, ahead of today’s launch. Photo Credit: NASA

Each of the astronauts and cosmonauts involved in the missions to and from the station in the coming months has a long history of training and working together. Hadfield and Vinogradov trained for Mir together in the early 1990s. “He came over to my house,” Hadfield said of the 59-year-old cosmonaut, who will become the oldest Russian ever to launch into space when he flies Soyuz TMA-08M. “I gave him his first jet-ski ride back in 1994, so we’ve been training together for a long time.” Hadfield has also worked extensively with Tom Marshburn, both on National Outdoor Leadership School excursions and aboard NASA’s Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) undersea laboratory. As for Marshburn and Romanenko, they both flew together for a spell in 2009—the former as a crewman aboard the STS-127 Shuttle mission, the latter as a long-duration resident of the station—and have worked closely.Friday’s docking brings the ISS up to its six-man strength in time for Christmas and the festive period is expected to prove an emotive time. Chris Hadfield sat in Mission Control at the Capcom’s console over Christmas, for several years, talking to orbiting crews, and he expects to be able to speak to his family members—who live all over the world, with sons in China and Germany, a daughter in Ireland, and his wife in the United States or Canada—on the day itself. Tom Marshburn is aware that he will miss seeing his daughter as she opens her presents on Christmas morning, but that internet sessions should enable him to keep in touch. And as for Roman Romanenko, he expects that the station will be amply decorated with a tree and Christmas trimmings.

According to the present manifest, Hadfield’s voyage is the last ISS mission for Canada, which has used all of its assigned crew positions under original intergovernmental agreements. Its astronauts have directly participated in six Shuttle assembly missions—including Hadfield’s pair of EVAs to install the Canadarm2 robotic manipulator on STS-100 in April 2001—and with today’s launch have now supported two long-duration expeditions.

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