'For the Long Haul': NASA and International Partners Ready for Record-Setting 2015 Aboard Space Station

The Soyuz TMA-16M crew, scheduled to launch on 27 March 2015, includes Gennadi Padalka (center), who will become the world space endurance record-holder by the end of his six-month stay aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Flanking him are the two year-long crew members, Scott Kelly (left) and Mikhail Kornienko, who will catapult themselves into the Top Twenty most seasoned spacefarers of all time. Photo Credit: NASA

The Soyuz TMA-16M crew, scheduled to launch on 27 March 2015, includes Gennadi Padalka (center), who will become the world space endurance record-holder by the end of his six-month stay aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Flanking him are the two year-long crew members, Scott Kelly (left) and Mikhail Kornienko, who will catapult themselves into the Top Twenty most seasoned spacefarers of all time. Photo Credit: NASA

As the curtain falls on the International Space Station (ISS) for 2014, the last dozen months have truly demonstrated the “international” nature of the orbital outpost for NASA and its partners from Russia, Japan, Canada, and the member states of the European Space Agency (ESA). Six Americans, nine Russians, and one citizen apiece from Japan, Germany, and Italy have spent periods of several months aboard the station. They included the first Japanese commander of the ISS, as well as Russia’s first woman cosmonaut in two decades and the first Italian female spacefarer. Yet 2015 promises to be an exciting year for the books, with the records set to fall like ninepins. A new record for the world’s most experienced astronaut or cosmonaut is expected to be set in June, together with space endurance records for Italy, Denmark, and the United Kingdom. Moreover, as will be described in tomorrow’s AmericaSpace article, 2015 will mark a sharp change in configuration of the ISS, as the complex prepares for its future Commercial Crew needs.

More than two years have now elapsed since U.S. astronaut Scott Kelly and Russia’s Mikhail Kornienko were assigned, amid great fanfare, to participate in the first year-long expedition of the ISS era. Missions of equivalent, and longer, duration will be mandatory as humans embark on flights to the Moon, Mars, and perhaps a politically motivated voyage to an asteroid, sometime in the mid-2020s. On three previous occasions, Soviet and Russian cosmonauts flew for a full year or more. In December 1988, Vladimir Titov and Musa Manarov concluded a 366-day mission to the Mir space station, whilst Valeri Polyakov extended that record to almost 438 days between January 1994 and March 1995. Polyakov’s achievement still stands as the empirical single-mission endurance record and looks likely to remain for some considerable time to come, although cosmonaut Sergei Avdeyev completed a pair of six-month, back-to-back expeditions to Mir between August 1998 and August 1999, logging 379 days in orbit.

As outlined in a recent AmericaSpace article by Emily Carney, the year-long mission of Kelly and Kornienko will involve 19 NASA and 14 Roscosmos investigations, several of which are joint experiments, covering functional and behavioral health, visual impairment, metabolic physical performance, and microbial and human factors. By his own admission—voiced before a news conference at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), held in Paris on 18 December—Kelly was not particularly interested in the mission when he was first approached as a candidate. However, he knew that he wanted to fly again, and after a period of reflection he realized that embarking on what would effectively be a double-duty ISS expedition appealed to his innate sense of adventure and desire for challenge.

The One Year Crew mission patch. Image Credit: NASA

The One Year Crew mission patch. Image Credit: NASA

Currently scheduled to launch from Baikonur Cosmodrome aboard Soyuz TMA-16M on 27 March 2015—alongside crewmate Gennadi Padalka, who is bound for a more modest, six-month stay aboard the ISS—Kelly and Kornienko are not expected to return to Earth until 3 March 2016, which will produce a total mission duration of 342 days. That will easily allow Kelly to jump from his current position as the 27th most experienced U.S. astronaut directly into first place and will also make him the most seasoned non-Russian spacefarer, with a cumulative 522 days aloft, spread across four flights. This will eclipse the 381-day total of the present U.S. record-holder, Mike Fincke. Moreover, for the first time since the spring of 2013, an American will sit within the Top Twenty list of the most experienced astronauts or cosmonauts of all time. During his 19 years as an astronaut, Kelly has flown two short-duration shuttle flights and a 159-day ISS expedition. Despite the conviction of many spacefarers that a long-duration flight was more like a marathon than a sprint, Kelly described it as “like a long sprint” and compared it to a long shuttle mission, with the exception that he had more free time at weekends. However, he recognized that he and Kornienko will have to pace themselves in orbit.

For the second time in their careers, both crewmen will celebrate a birthday in orbit; Kornienko will turn 55 on 15 April, whilst Kelly will reach 52, just a few weeks before he is due to return to Earth, on 21 February 2016. In fact, during the Paris press conference, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) chief astronaut Soichi Noguchi explained that both he and Kornienko share the same birth date—albeit five years apart, Kornienko having been born in 1960, Noguchi in 1965—and celebrated together in orbit during Expedition 23, back in April 2010. It was also noted that JAXA, as with the other international partners, is providing a series of biomedical experiments in support of the one-year mission.

Early in 2014, Kelly explained that preparing for a flight with several different crews—and with two different Soyuz commanders, one for the ascent to orbit and another for the return to Earth, a year later—would “add complexity” to his training regime. He asked other U.S. occupants of the ISS how they might feel if their six-month missions were extended, mid-flight, by another six months, and noted that they understood the challenge in terms of being away from their families and friends for so long. “Going into it with the mindset, right from the beginning, that I’m going to be there for a whole year might make it easier than if you were on the space station, had been there six months, and were told you had to stay another six,” Kelly explained in a more recent interview from September 2014. “That would certainly be a lot harder. In some ways, it’s a mental thing, preparing yourself for the long haul.” He also remarked, a little tongue-in-cheek, that leaving his house in the care of his 19-year-old daughter for more than 12 months would be equally challenging.

Scott Kelly will become the first person to spend three Christmases in orbit. He flew aboard STS-103 in 1999 and was in command of the International Space Station (ISS) over the festive period in 2010. His year-long expedition in 2015-16 is also expected to oblige him to spend the holidays away from family and friends. Photo Credit: NASA

Scott Kelly will become the first American to spend three Christmases in orbit. He flew aboard STS-103 in 1999 and was in command of the International Space Station (ISS) over the festive period in 2010. His year-long expedition in 2015-16 is also expected to oblige him to spend the holidays away from family and friends. Photo Credit: NASA

With a combined total of 180 days in space so far, Kelly currently stands nine places ahead of Kornienko on the list of most experienced spacefarers of all time. Kornienko accrued 176 days on his first mission to the ISS in April-September 2010. Yet both men trail far behind the cosmonaut who will command Soyuz TMA-16M on its voyage to the space station. In fact, by the time Gennadi Padalka returns from his six-month mission in mid-September 2015, he will have established himself as the world’s most experienced spacefarer of all time. He has already accumulated 710 days during three ISS expeditions and an earlier Mir flight and is presently the fourth most experienced astronaut or cosmonaut in the world. Assuming that Soyuz TMA-16M launches on time on 27 March, Padalka will push aside Sergei Avdeyev to enter third place on 3 May, then surpass Aleksandr Kaleri to enter second place on 25 May. A little over a month later, on 28 June, he will take the crown from Sergei Krikalev, the incumbent record-holder, who has spent 803 days in orbit across six missions. Krikalev has held the record for 10 years, since 16 August 2005. And by the time Padalka returns to Earth on 11 September 2015, after 168 days, he will have pushed his personal tally and the world record up to 878 days, which represents 2.4 years—or about 4.5 percent of his 57 years of life—spent off the Home Planet.

When Padalka, Kelly, and Kornienko arrive aboard the ISS, about six hours after liftoff, following a now-standard “fast rendezvous” profile, they will form the second half of the Expedition 43 crew, joining Commander Terry Virts of NASA, Russian cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, and Italy’s first woman in space, Samantha Cristoforetti, for about six weeks. The latter trio will return to Earth on 16 May, after nearly six months in orbit, leaving Padalka, Kelly, and Kornienko as the “core” of the new Expedition 44. Interestingly, the return of Cristoforetti—who became Italy’s first woman in space, when she launched aboard Soyuz TMA-15M in November 2014—will become the most experienced non-Russian and non-U.S. female astronaut or cosmonaut, with 169 days in a single flight. In doing so, she will also enter ninth place on the list of most experienced female spacefarers of all time.

Mikhail Kornienko displays fresh tomatoes, brought to the International Space Station (ISS) by the visiting STS-132 crew during Expedition 23 in May 2010. Photo Credit: NASA

Mikhail Kornienko displays fresh tomatoes, brought to the International Space Station (ISS) by the visiting STS-132 crew during Expedition 23 in May 2010. Photo Credit: NASA

Less than two weeks later, on 26 May, Soyuz TMA-17M will launch from Baikonur, carrying Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, U.S. astronaut Kjell Lindgren, and Japan’s Kimiya Yui to bring the ISS population back up to six. The specific focus for the assembly and reconfiguration of the ISS during 2015, as well as the plan for visiting vehicles, will be the subject of tomorrow’s article, but for the Expedition 44 crew the records will continue into the first half of September when the station plays host to as many as nine crew members, simultaneously, for only the second time since the end of the shuttle era. Journeying to the ISS aboard Soyuz TMA-18M will be Russian cosmonaut Sergei Volkov—who will replace Padalka as the third member of Kelly and Kornienko’s crew for the remainder of their year-long expedition—and a pair of short-duration visitors: Denmark’s first man in space, Andreas Mogensen, who is flying under a European Space Agency (ESA) contract, and English soprano Sarah Brightman, who is a paying “spaceflight participant.”

After 10 days in space, Mogensen—setting, by default, a new space endurance record for Norway—and Brightman will board Soyuz TMA-16M with Padalka and undock from the space station for their return to Earth. Touching down on the desolate steppe of Kazakhstan, Padalka will establish himself as the world’s most experienced spacefarer, with 878 days in orbit. In 2015, the 15th year of continuous ISS occupation, his accomplishment will also enable him to hold on to his own record of having spent more time aboard the international outpost than any other human being: 674 days, or 1.8 years of his life.

The return of Padalka is expected to herald the start of a chain of accomplishments on the U.S. side, as the records begin to fall like ninepins. After Padalka’s departure, Scott Kelly will assume command of Expedition 45. On 14 October, as he passes the 201st day of his flight, he will officially become the most experienced NASA astronaut, surpassing Mike Fincke’s cumulative 381-day total. And just two weeks later, on 28 October, as he hits 215 days in space, he will exceed Mike Lopez-Alegria as the record-holder of the longest single U.S. space mission. By the time he returns to Earth on 3 March 2016, Kelly will have accrued 522 days aloft, placing him in 17th place on the list of the world’s most experienced spacefarers. On only a handful of occasions have U.S. astronauts ever broken into the coveted “Top Twenty,” a list overwhelmingly dominated by Soviet and Russian cosmonauts for more than three decades.

Sergei Krikalev, the current record-holder for time spent in space, is expected to lose his crown to Gennadi Padalka in June 2015. Photo Credit: NASA

Sergei Krikalev, the current record-holder for time spent in space, is expected to lose his crown to Gennadi Padalka in June 2015. Photo Credit: NASA

In fact, the Top Twenty is expected to be rather fluid throughout 2015 and into the spring of 2016, as other cosmonauts move and change places within that list. Soyuz TMA-17M is due to return to Earth on 5 November, bringing Kononenko, Lindgren, and Yui home after almost six months in orbit. And for Kononenko—who has logged 391 days in space during two previous ISS expeditions and will add another 163 days to his total during Expedition 44/45—this will advance him from 19th place to ninth place, whilst by the end of 2015 Sergei Volkov will have accrued 121 days on top of his current 366-day total, placing him at No. 17. Also at the close of 2015, Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko will come in at 18th and 19th places, with 459 and 455 cumulative days respectively. However, with nine more weeks of their expedition ahead of them, Volkov, Kelly, and Kornienko will continue an upward trend within the Top Twenty. By the time the trio returns to Earth aboard Soyuz TMA-18M on 3 March 2016, Volkov will make No. 10 on the list, with Kelly and Kornienko settling at No. 17 and No. 18.

Two weeks after the return of Kononenko, Lindgren, and Yui, on 20 November 2015, Soyuz TMA-19M will roar aloft from Baikonur, carrying Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko, U.S. astronaut Tim Kopra, and Britain’s Tim Peake. Malenchenko will become only the second of his countrymen (after Sergei Krikalev) to log a sixth space mission and is presently the world’s seventh most experienced spacefarer, with 641 days of experience. However, by 31 December 2015, just six weeks into his mission, he will have surpassed fellow cosmonauts Anatoli Solovyov and Valeri Polyakov to advance to fifth place. And by the time Malenchenko returns to Earth in mid-May 2016, after 174 days in orbit, he will enter second place, behind Padalka and just ahead of Krikalev, with 815 days of cumulative experience. On a somewhat different and more personal level, other achievers will include Soyuz TMA-18M’s Sergei Volkov, who on 26 September 2015 will eclipse the career total of his father, fellow cosmonaut Aleksandr Volkov, who logged 391 days in orbit during three missions to Salyut 7 and Mir in the 1980s and early 1990s.

Of course, for this author, the inclusion of a British astronaut is not to be overlooked. Several “Britons” have flown into space—the first being Helen Sharman, aboard Soyuz TM-12 to the Mir orbital station, in May 1991—but so far none of them have done so with the official backing and financial support of the British government. Sharman’s eight-day voyage was a wholly commercial venture, conducted under the auspices of “Project Juno.” Other astronauts, including six-time shuttle and ISS veteran Mike Foale, together with Piers Sellers and Nick Patrick, were born in Britain, but were required to gain U.S. citizenship ahead of selection by NASA. All three rode their missions into space with the Stars and Stripes on their sleeves, rather than the Union Jack. Still more, including Mark Shuttleworth and Richard Garriott, had dual nationality, but flew as paying “space tourists.” Tim Peake, on the other hand, will fly into orbit aboard Soyuz TMA-19M with the Union Jack on the sleeve of his launch and entry suit. And perhaps, as will be described in tomorrow’s AmericaSpace article, he may also get the chance to venture outside the ISS on a spacewalk.

 

 

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