With less than 12 weeks to go before their launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, the three-man crew of Soyuz TMA-19M—consisting of Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko, U.S. astronaut Tim Kopra and Britain’s Tim Peake—gathered before representatives of the media at the Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Texas, earlier today (Thursday, 24 September), to discuss their upcoming mission. The event was extensively covered for AmericaSpace by photographer Michael Galindo, whose images are available in his Flickr gallery. Originally scheduled to fly on 20 November, their launch was shifted to 15 December, as 2015’s International Space Station (ISS) manifest morphed in response to several unanticipated events. Should the current schedule hold, the trio will initially join the incumbent Expedition 45 team of Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kononenko and Sergei Volkov, U.S. astronaut Kjell Lindgren, Japan’s Kimiya Yui and One-Year crewmen Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko, before rotating into Expedition 46 through March 2016 and eventually into Expedition 47 (under Kopra’s command), until their planned return to Earth on 5 May 2016. The mission promises to rapidly shift veteran cosmonaut Malenchenko up the experience table to become one of the world’s top three most seasoned spacefarers, whilst also offering a long-overdue return to space for Kopra and making Peake the first “official” British astronaut.
As described in a previous AmericaSpace article, the assignment of Peake to this flight was initially announced by the European Space Agency (ESA) in May 2013, following agreement by the British Government the previous November at the Ministerial Council Meeting in Naples, Italy, to contribute 1.4 billion euros ($1.8 billion) to the pan-European space organization’s 10 billion euro ($12.9 billion) budget over the following three to five years. Britain’s contribution made it one of only three ESA member-states to actually increase their financial commitment, thus enabling the agency to press ahead with its plan to develop the Service Module (SM) for the unpiloted Orion spacecraft which will fly Exploration Mission (EM)-1, atop the maiden voyage of the mammoth Space Launch System (SLS) booster, no sooner than November 2018. It was suggested at the time that Britain’s increased contribution may have offered the additional political leverage to secure a seat for Peake—who was selected as one of six ESA astronauts, alongside two Italians, a German, a Frenchman and a Dane in May 2009—on a long-duration ISS mission.
Although several “Britons” have flown into space, none have done so with the official backing and financial support of the British Government. Helen Sharman, who flew to the then-Soviet Mir space station aboard Soyuz TM-12 in May 1991, undertook a wholly commercial venture, executed under the auspices of “Project Juno”. Others, including Mike Foale, Piers Sellers and Nick Patrick, were born in Britain, but subsequently gained U.S. citizenship, prior to their admission into NASA’s Astronaut Corps. Foale became one of only eight spacefarers in history to chalk up as many as six missions—and held the title for the most experienced U.S. astronaut from December 2003 until April 2008, when his record was surpassed by Peggy Whitson—whilst Sellers and Patrick participated in five shuttle flights and supported a combined nine EVAs, totaling more than 59 hours working in vacuum. All three traveled into space with the Stars and Stripes on their sleeves, rather than the Union Jack, whereas others, including Mark Shuttleworth and Richard Garriott, had dual nationality, but flew as paying Spaceflight Participants (SFPs). As such, Peake becomes the first “official” British astronaut and will wear the Union Jack on the sleeve of his Sokol (“Falcon”) launch and entry suit when he boards Soyuz TMA-19M for his flight out of Baikonur on 15 December. During today’s press conference, Peake responded to a question posed via Twitter by Patrick Davies, the Deputy British Ambassador to the United States, about what he intends to carry into space to remind him of the United Kingdom. Peake’s reply was that he will be carrying his own choice of tea into orbit, allowing him to enjoy two cups each day during his long mission.
Timothy Nagel Peake was born in Chichester, West Sussex—one of several “cathedral cities” in the south-east of England—on 7 April 1972. He completed his education at Chichester High School for Boys in 1990, then attended the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, near Sandhurst, Berkshire, for initial British Army officer training. Upon graduation in 1992, he served as a platoon commander with the Royal Green Jackets light infantry regiment, which later merged with other infantry units to become The Rifles of today’s British Army, and later qualified as a helicopter pilot and flight instructor. “For me, flying was an absolute passion as a young boy and as a teenager,” he told today’s JSC audience. “I was flying solo before I could drive a car and I decided early on that I wanted a career as a military pilot and as a test pilot and that just paved the way, by going down that specialization, to becoming an astronaut later in life.” Peake entered the Empire Test Pilots School (ETPS) at Ministry of Defence (MoD) Boscombe Down, Hampshire, in 2005, and emerged as the best rotary wing student. A year later, he earned his undergraduate degree in flight dynamics and evaluation from the University of Portsmouth, before resigning his British Army commission in 2009.
Completing a 17-year military career, Peake had accrued over 3,000 flying hours and joined the Anglo-Italian AgustaWestland helicopter design company as a test pilot. That same year, he was one of 8,413 applicants who sought admission into ESA’s third astronaut intake. On 20 May, he was selected—alongside Italians Luca Parmitano and Samantha Cristoforetti, Germany’s Alexander Gerst, Frenchman Thomas Pesquet and Denmark’s Andreas Mogensen—as a member of ESA’s first new astronaut group since 1992. Described by ESA Director-General Jean-Jacques Dordain as representing “a turning point” in Europe’s human spaceflight activities, following the launch of the Columbus laboratory, the six astronaut candidates completed their basic training in November 2010. Three months later, in February 2011, Parmitano was announced as the first member of the group to draw a flight assignment. He was followed in turn by Gerst in September 2011 and Cristoforetti in July 2012, with Peake assigned in May 2013. By his own admission, seated alongside his veteran comrades today, Peake considered himself to be “the lucky person in the room” and paid touching tribute to them as an “experienced and talented team”.
In the meantime, NASA selected veteran astronaut Tim Kopra in October 2013 to join Peake, with the expectation that he would rotate from a flight engineer on Expedition 46 into the command of Expedition 47. Of Finnish-Karelian descent, Timothy Lennart Kopra was born in Austin, Texas, on 9 April 1963, and graduated from McCallum High School in 1981. He grew up watching the Apollo lunar landings and, “when I was a kid every child wanted to be either an astronaut, a fireman, a policeman, the standard kinds of jobs that little kids dream about doing, but within that category, for my era, it was astronaut”. Inspired by West Point, he earned a science degree from the U.S. Military Academy in 1985 and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army, qualifying as an Army Aviator in August of the following year. Kopra next pursued a three-year assignment at Fort Campbell, Ken., serving as an aeroscout platoon leader, troop executive officer and squadron adjutant in the 101st Airborne Division’s air cavalry squadron. Assigned to the 3rd Armored Division in Hanau, Germany, he supported Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in the Middle East and later served as an attack helicopter company commander and operations officer. During this period, he also earned a master’s degree in aerospace engineering from Georgia Institute of Technology.
Kopra joined NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Texas, in September 1988, as a vehicle integration test officer, providing engineering liaison across shuttle launch operations and ISS hardware testing. It was very different to test pilot work, but he explained later that it “was part of this continuation of what I saw as at least a potential path to being selected as an astronaut”. He was selected in July 2000 and following initial Astronaut Candidate (ASCAN) training completed a Master of Strategic Studies degree at the U.S. Army War College and in September 2006 served as a crew member aboard the 11th NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO-11), located in the Aquarius underwater laboratory, off Key Largo, Fla.
During today’s press conference, Kopra offered some insight into his early ASCAN training. “I would say that the most important skill set for an astronaut is to be able to get along with others,” he began. During training, he remembered his instructors thinking, in the back of their minds, who they would most want to go camping with. “You want to have people who can get along and, frankly, any technical field benefits from people who can get along with others, because the team is much more effective than an individual.”
At length, in February 2008—following the resumption of shuttle operations in the wake of the Columbia tragedy—Kopra was named as a long-duration ISS resident, flying to the station aboard STS-127, after which he would join the incumbent Expedition 19. Launched aboard shuttle Endeavour on 15 July 2009, Kopra conducted a 5.5-hour EVA and spent a little less than two full months aboard the space station, before returning to Earth aboard shuttle Discovery during STS-128 on 11 September, wrapping up a 58-day mission.
Barely a week after his return home, on 18 September, Kopra was assigned—alongside two of his former Expedition 19 crewmates, Mike Barratt and Nicole Stott, who were still aboard the ISS at the time—to the final scheduled shuttle mission, STS-133, then planned for liftoff in September 2010. Over the course of the following year, Kopra trained to serve as STS-133’s flight engineer and lead spacewalker, overseeing the development and planning of a pair of 6.5-hour-long EVAs. Unfortunately, STS-133 met with significant delay and after no fewer than five scrubbed launch attempts in November 2010, the mission was postponed until the spring of the following year, in order to facilitate repairs following a hydrogen leak at the Ground Umbilical Carrier Plate (GUCP). Rescheduled for launch on 24 February 2011, Kopra was five weeks from his second space mission, when he suffered a bicycle accident and incurred a suspected broken hip. Within days, he was replaced by fellow astronaut Steve Bowen, and STS-133 flew without Kopra. “It was not what you expected; not what you want,” Bowen noted sadly in a pre-flight interview. “Tim worked really hard.” More than two years later, with his assignment to a second long-duration mission, Kopra would finally get another chance to return to space.
Kopra’s experience during this difficult stage of his career was touched upon in one media question. “As you can probably imagine, there’s probably not a bigger disappointment—especially for an astronaut—to lose a flight so close to the launch date,” he reflected. “But having some time separating that event from this flight, I think I’ve actually gained an appreciation for the kind of job we have. Not to say that I took my job for granted before, but I’m probably more grateful for this flight opportunity as a consequence.” Queried about whether he intends to do any more biking before his flight, the response was a grinning “Nope!” and a joking assertion that he will remain bubble-wrapped for protection until launch.
Having flown previously aboard the shuttle, Kopra was asked by AmericaSpace’s Michael Galindo about the differences journeying into orbit in Russia’s Soyuz, for which he will serve as “Flight Engineer-1”, the second in command behind Malenchenko. “My role in the Soyuz is expanded, because as the left-seater, I work as the co-pilot,” Kopra told Galindo. “Before, on STS-127, I was on the middeck, so not much of a role going uphill or downhill. And then on STS-133, which I trained for, I was Mission Specialist 2, which is essentially the “quarterback”. So, in this sense, I think my role is a little bit more complicated and requires more time in Russia for that training.” He stressed his “respect” for the almost-50-year-old Soyuz, which he described as “big enough and…does its job well enough that it can make it through the entire sequence of launch and landing in a safe manner”. In comparison to the shuttle, which featured a number of “zones in which your life was imperilled [and] there wasn’t much you could do about it”, the difference with Soyuz, in Kopra’s mind, is that “every portion of the launch and the landing has contingencies where the crew’s going to be safe”.
At around the same time as Peake and Kopra were assigned, there existed much speculation that the veteran Russian cosmonaut Sergei Zalyotin—who previously commanded the final piloted mission to the Mir space station in mid-2000, before embarking on a short-duration visit to the ISS in October 2002—might be a leading candidate for the commander’s seat aboard Soyuz TMA-19M. Zalyotin’s assignment was confirmed by NASA in February 2014, but within months he had resigned from the cosmonaut corps on medical grounds and was replaced by five-flight veteran Yuri Malenchenko. More recently, rumor abounded earlier in 2015 that the replacement might himself be replaced by fellow cosmonaut Anatoli Ivanishin, although this proved erroneous and Malenchenko continued his training with Kopra and Peake, backing up the Soyuz TMA-17M crew, before rotating into the prime crew position for Soyuz TMA-19M.
Yuri Ivanovich Malenchenko was born on 22 December 1961 in Svetlovodsk, on the banks of the Dnepr River in central Ukraine and, as of today, has established himself as the seventh most experienced space traveler of all time, with 641 days away from the Home Planet under his belt, spread across five missions aboard Mir, the ISS and the shuttle between July 1994 and November 2012. In fact, when he launches aboard Soyuz TMA-19M, he will become only the second Russian—after Sergei Krikalev—to have journeyed into space as many as six times and one of only ten human beings to have flown so many missions.
Malenchenko attended local schools and later admitted to a NASA interviewer that his original career goal was “to have a profession which would not be boring…something dynamic, something ever-changing and challenging”. His early interests included sailing and, later, flying. In terms of education, he majored in mathematics, but changed paths and graduated in 1983 from the Kharkov Higher Military Aviation School as a pilot-engineer. In his military career, Malenchenko served as a pilot, senior pilot and multi-ship flight lead in the Soviet Air Force, before being accepted into the cosmonaut corps in March 1987. He later served on the Soyuz TM-18 backup crew for a long-duration Mir increment and, whilst training for that mission, graduated from the Zhukovsky Air Force Engineering Academy. “I never regretted it,” Malenchenko said of his decision to become a cosmonaut. “It requires a lot from a person. However, at the same time, it is a very rewarding profession, because the tasks you need to complete are very important, complicated and require a lot of responsibility from different points of view.”
His first voyage into orbit began on 1 July 1994, when he commanded Soyuz TM-19 alongside Kazakh cosmonaut Talgat Musabayev on a 125-day expedition to Mir. A few days later, Malenchenko and Musabayev—joined by fellow cosmonaut Valeri Polyakov, who was midway through a record-setting 14-month stay aboard the space station—took charge of Mir from its previous crew. Significantly, Malenchenko performed a successful manual docking of a Progress resupply craft, which had earlier impacted the station, and performed a pair of EVAs with Musabayev, totaling more than 11 hours. Ahead of an anticipated assignment to an ISS expedition, Malenchenko was named as a crew member aboard STS-96, but later reassigned to STS-101 and eventually STS-106, which took place in September 2000 and saw him perform an EVA with U.S. astronaut Ed Lu.
Malenchenko and Lu remained a team and, in March 2001, they were assigned with Russian cosmonaut Sergei Moschenko—later replaced by Aleksandr Kaleri—to ISS Expedition 7, which was originally targeted to arrive aboard STS-114 in March 2003, marking the next shuttle flight after STS-107. However, the tragic loss of Columbia during re-entry on STS-107 placed the shuttle fleet on indefinite hold and the International Partners (IPs) opted to fly two-person “caretaker” crews to keep the space station operational during the interim. Malenchenko and Lu were the first such crew, launched aboard Soyuz TMA-2 for a six-month tour on 26 April 2003. During the course of their long voyage, Malenchenko became the first person to marry whilst in orbit. Two more long-duration missions followed: Expedition 16 between October 2007 and April 2008 and Expedition 32/33 in July-November 2012. Both of these increments saw Malenchenko under the command of the first and second women ever to lead an ISS crew. During the course of his most recent expeditions, he completed two more EVAs, raising his career total to five spacewalks and totaling more than 30 hours working outside Mir and the ISS. By the time Malenchenko landed at the close of his fifth space mission in November 2012, he had spent 641 days (or 1.7 years of his life) away from Earth.
A year ago, Soyuz TMA-19M was targeted to launch on 20 November 2015 and return to Earth in May 2016, which would have added another six months to Malenchenko’s career tally and pushed his total as high as 819 days. That would have moved him briskly from his present position as the world’s seventh most experienced spacefarer, and into second place, surpassing fellow cosmonaut Sergei Krikalev’s 803-day total, yet falling slightly short of world record-holder Gennadi Padalka’s 878 days. However, from the outset, 2015 did not run smoothly. Already, Orbital Sciences Corp. had suffered the explosion of its ORB-3 Cygnus cargo ship in October 2014, after which Russia’s Progress M-27M also failed in April-May 2015—triggering a two-month delay in piloted launches—and SpaceX lost its CRS-7 Dragon in June, dooming the first of two critical International Docking Adapters (IDAs) for Commercial Crew applications. As the ISS Program manifest contorted in response to the delays, Soyuz TMA-19M found itself rescheduled to launch no sooner than 15 December, whilst its original landing date was moved forward to 5 May 2016, thus producing a 142-day mission for Malenchenko, Kopra and Peake. Assuming that this schedule holds, Malenchenko will return to Earth with a career total of 783 days, which will establish him as the world’s third most experienced spacefarer, just ahead of fellow cosmonaut Aleksandr Kaleri and about three weeks behind Sergei Krikalev.
At present, the ISS is two weeks into Expedition 45, commanded by U.S. astronaut Scott Kelly, who—alongside Russian crewmate Mikhail Kornienko—recently passed the halfway point of his (almost) year-long stay aboard the multi-national outpost. The two men are joined by the Soyuz TMA-17M crew of Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, U.S. astronaut Kjell Lindgren and Japan’s Kimiya, who have been in space since July, together with Russia’s Sergei Volkov, who arrived at the ISS earlier this month. All six men will remain aboard by December, when Malenchenko, Kopra and Peake arrive, placing the station in the rare state of housing as many as nine humans simultaneously. It will be the second time in 2015 that such a “direct rotation” of crew members has occurred and only the third occasion since the end of the shuttle era that more than six people have occupied the space station at the same time.
This second direct rotation for 2015 was not originally planned, but was added in order to maximize the time spent in orbit by the Soyuz TMA-17M crew, the beginning of whose six-month flight was postponed from May to July, and whose landing date has been correspondingly extended from 5 November until 22 December. “We’re just happy to be able to spend time with the crew on board,” admitted Kopra, when questioned about the precise reasons for the direct handover. “It’s a big station and there’s plenty of room, so you might as well have a full complement. In terms of why we’re doing a direct handover, I think it’s to give an opportunity for [the Soyuz TMA-17M crew] to have a length of time, since their flight was delayed, and I think we want to maximize the amount of utilization on station. And we can do that with nine people, very easily.” Asked where the three new arrivals will sleep for the first few days, with all six crew berths filled, Kopra stressed that “I think we’ll just find a place…it’s a big station!”
In anticipation of the Soyuz TMA-19M crew’s arrival, Kononenko, Lindgren and Yui will relocate their Soyuz TMA-17M spacecraft to the aft longitudinal port of the station’s Zvezda service module, thereby opening up the radial Rassvet port for the new arrivals. Soyuz TMA-17M will then return to Earth on 22 December, marking the dawn of Expedition 46—also under Scott Kelly’s command—which will run through the end of the One-Year Mission on 2 March 2016. “It’s going to be the final stage of the One-Year Mission,” said Malenchenko. “In a sense, it will be easier for us to work side by side with the crew, because they’ll be very experienced and supportive colleagues. At the same time, for a crew who have been working on board for such an extensive period of time, they probably will have accumulated fatigue.” At length, Kelly will relinquish command of the ISS to Tim Kopra, who will lead Expedition 47 as a three-man team, until the arrival of three new crew members—Russian cosmonauts Alexei Ovchinin and Oleg Skripochka and U.S. astronaut Jeff Williams—on 18 March, which will restore his increment back to its full, six-person capability.
Major events for the Expedition 46/47 increments remain imprecise, owing to uncertainty over the return to flight dates for SpaceX’s Dragon, which is tasked with delivering the Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) aboard CRS-8 and the second International Docking Adapter (IDA-2) on CRS-9. SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell has repeatedly noted that no launches of the Falcon 9 booster can be anticipated for at least the next couple of months. Also grounded at present is Orbital Sciences’ Cygnus, which is expected to undertake its return-to-flight mission—ORB-4, boosted by United Launch Alliance (ULA), atop an Atlas V 401 vehicle—in early December. A steady stream of Progress cargo craft are anticipated and at least one EVA from the station’s Russian Orbital Segment (ROS) will be undertaken by Malenchenko and Volkov in the February 2016 timeframe. “We will have a plethora of resupply vehicles, no we’re getting back on track again with the supply chain, as well as potentially a couple of EVAs,” explained Kopra. “But the primary job we have is for the utilization of Space Station, because now we have this orbiting laboratory and we intend to do our job and to produce good science.”
Between them, Malenchenko and Kopra have 699 days in space and a cumulative six EVAs, but for Peake it will be the first time that he will have savored microgravity and the opportunity to observe the Home Planet from orbit. Responding to a question from AmericaSpace’s Michael Galindo, Peake’s eyes lit up when describing what he will most look forward to. “For me, as a rookie astronaut, it’s got to be going to the cupola and looking down on Planet Earth,” he said, in response to a question of what he looks most forward to on his flight. “I doubt that experience will ever leave you and it’s probably something that these guys are equally looking forward to as well, because it’s such a unique privilege. Living and working in weightlessness is going to be incredibly exciting. To actually let your entire body adapt to this new environment and to experience sleeping and eating and working, that’s going to be amazing.”