For the first time in almost four years, three Americans will be aboard the International Space Station (ISS) together this weekend, as Soyuz MS-05 brings a new team of astronauts and cosmonauts to the multi-national orbiting outpost. Veteran shuttle flyer Randy Bresik, Russian cosmonaut Sergei Ryazansky and Italy’s Paolo Nespoli are slated to launch from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 9:41 p.m. local time (11:41 a.m. EDT) on Friday, 28 July, after which they will follow a well-trodden four-orbit “fast rendezvous”, docking at the station’s Earth-facing (or “nadir”) Rassvet module, some six hours and 20 minutes later. In Nespoli’s words, the 134 cubic feet (3.8 cubic meters) of the tiny Soyuz cabin promises “an amazing ride…with little legroom”.
The three spacefarers and their backups—Russian cosmonaut Aleksandr Misurkin, NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei and Japan’s Norishige Kanai—traditionally paid homage to Yuri Gagarin at Moscow’s Kremlin Wall, earlier this month, before flying out to Baikonur on 16 July. Over the next few days, the crews ceremonially raised their national flags, prompting Nespoli to tweet “We are getting serious!” For Bresnik, the highpoint was climbing for the first time into the “real” Soyuz MS-05 spacecraft, wearing his “real” Sokol launch-and-entry suit, using his “real” seat-liner and equipment.
As outlined previously by AmericaSpace, the number of U.S. occupants of the ISS will increase from two to three members for at least the next year, in response to a Russian decision to reduce its own complement of cosmonauts. When Bresnik, Ryazansky and Nespoli arrive at the station, they will be welcomed by Expedition 52 Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin and his crewmates Peggy Whitson—more than eight months into a 9.5-month increment—and Jack Fischer. The six spacefarers will work together for a month, before Yurchikhin, Whitson and Fischer return to Earth on 3 September.
During their month together, the crew will oversee a spacewalk by Yurchikhin and Ryazansky and potentially the arrival of SpaceX’s CRS-12 Dragon cargo ship, laden with supplies, including the Cosmic Ray Energetics and Mass (CREAM) instrument. With the departure of Yurchikhin’s crew, Bresnik will assume command of the station and Expedition 53 will officially commence. Ten days later, on 13 September, Soyuz MS-06 will deliver the second half of his team—Misurkin, Vande Hei and NASA astronaut Joe Acaba—to the ISS.
The six-strong team will work together for the next three months, welcoming Russia’s Progress MS-07 and Orbital ATK’s OA-8E Cygnus cargo ships in October, followed by SpaceX’s CRS-12 Dragon in November. A pair of U.S. Extravehicular Activities (EVAs) are targeted for late October, although spacewalking crew members have yet to be identified. These EVAs will be tasked with the replacement of failing cameras on the station’s Integrated Truss Structure (ITS), installation of additional High-Definition (HD) cameras and maintenance work. Current plans call for Bresnik, Ryazansky and Nespoli to return to Earth on 14 December, wrapping up 139 days in orbit.
If their mission runs to schedule, 60-year-old Nespoli will not only become the oldest Italian spacefarer, but also the most flight-experienced of his countrymen or women, with an expectation that on 23 August he will surpass Samantha Cristoforetti’s 199-day national record. Additionally, in September, Bresnik will celebrate his 50th birthday, as Misurkin heads over the hill by welcoming his 40th birthday in orbit.