Dramatic Soyuz Mission Averts ISS Abandonment
After an 11-year stretch of continuous human occupation, the future residency of humans aboard the ISS swung in the balance in the wake of a Russian Soyuz rocket failure in August that temporarily grounded all Soyuz launches – manned and unmanned – until the root cause was determined and satisfactorily rectified with NASA’s consent.
The very survival of the ISS hinged on the successful launch of a trio of Russian and American space flyers just 2 days ago from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazahkstan aboard the Soyuz TMA-22 capsule, which took place amidst an unprecedented blizzard and white out conditions with near zero visibility.
The three man crew of Russian rookie cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Anatoly Ivanishin along with veteran NASA astronaut Dan Burbank arrived at the Poisk module of the orbiting outpost just in the nick of time – 5 days before the last three ISS crewmembers still aboard would have been forced to depart, leaving no humans aboard.
Luckily the Soyuz launch and automated rendezvous and linkup with the ISS flying some 400 km (248 miles) above the South Pacific proceeded flawlessly, announced Russian space officials at Mission Control in Moscow shortly after the successful docking. The event was carried live on NASA TV.
The new trio joins the current Expedition 29 residents comprising ISS Commander Mike Fossum (NASA) and Flight Engineers Satoshi Furukawa (Japan) and Sergei Volkov (Russia). But Fossum, Furukawa and Volkov will depart on Monday, Nov. 21, and thereby reduce the station crew population back down to three.
“The crew will have a very busy time during the short handover period,” said William Gerstenmaier, NASA Associate Administrator for the Human Exploration and Operation Directorate, who was present in Moscow.
“I want to thank our Russian colleagues for a tremendous job. It’s great to have six people back aboard the ISS,” Gerstenmaier said.
The newly arrived crew is expected to stay at the ISS for about five months and carry out a wide range of science experiments.
“Its great to see all six of you together up there,” radioed Gerstenmaier after the hatch opening.
“It’s was a great ride uphill and it will be a great stay up here,” Burbank replied.
The cosmonauts children exuberantly said “Hi , how are you. Kisses to you Daddy !” to their dads in space moments later ! The next three man Soyuz crew of US astronaut Don Pettit, Dutch astronaut André Kuipers, and Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko, is set to arrive on December 23 and again restore the crew to a full complement of six.