A Russian cosmonaut and his NASA co-pilot, five months after launching a dramatic launch break last October, finally arrived in orbit Thursday and, along with a NASA astronaut who made his first flight, docked at the International Space Station six hours later to bring back the six-man crew to the lab.
The Soyuz MS-12 / 58S spacecraft left the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 3:14:08 pm ET Friday, roughly at the moment when the Earth's rotation carried the springboard – the same used from Yuri Gagarin to the dawn of the space age – in the plane of the station's orbit.
Using a fast rendez-vous procedure, Soyuz MS- The commander of 1
After waiting for the residual movement to be attenuated, hooks and bolts engaged themselves to drag the ship for a so-called "hard companion" with the docking door. It was expected that the hatches would be opened about two hours later, after the tests to verify the watertightness and to equalize the pressure between the two spacecraft.
Waiting for the arrival of the new crew were the commander of the station Oleg Kononenko, the Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques and the NASA flight engineer Anne McClain. They were launched in the outpost on December 3 and had the station for themselves since December 19 when a previous Soyuz crew returned to Earth.
The Soyuz systemby accelerating the capsule of the crew safely away from the rocket. Ovchinin and Hague have landed about 250 miles from the launch site. The problem with the normally reliable Soyuz repeater was quickly corrected, paving the way for Kononenko, Saint-Jacques and McClain to start . But downstream flights had to be reprogrammed.
The Soyuz MS-12 / 58S spacecraft launched Thursday was supposed to take off in April with commander Oleg Skripochka, host cosmonaut of the United Arab Emirates and Koch, who was training as a ship's engineer or co-pilot. But in the wake of the abortion, the flight was moved upward and Ovchinin and Hague were assigned to join Koch with the Hague assuming the role of copilot.
In a pre-launch interview, Koch, an electrical engineer, climber and veteran Antarctic researcher, said he had no qualms about tying up with a Soyuz spacecraft and launching himself into space.
"It's an incredible car," he said. "The fact that its reliability is so high is something to be held in high regard, and it was a huge privilege to train on a spacecraft that has such an excellent record: it was an honor. It's a good spacecraft."
The expansion of six crew members faces unusually challenging first weeks along with three spacewalks scheduled towards the end of the month to install new solar accumulator batteries and perform other upgrades and maintenance. Hague and McClain will carry out the first battery replacement excursion on March 22 with McClain and Koch expected to follow the example seven days later. The Aja and Saint-Jacques will conduct the third EVA on April 8th.
Cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya was the first woman to walk in space in 1984. Eleven American women followed in her footsteps, starting with the astronaut Kathryn Sullivan during a shuttle flight in October 1984. McClain and Koch would have been the thirteenth and fourteenth to float out of a spaceship and the first female-only space exploration team.
NASA had planned the installation of the new solar panel batteries during the two walks in space last fall, but the launch of the Japanese cargo ship HTV-7 that transported them into orbit was delayed and the EVA was delayed until after the expected arrival of the Hague last October. After the interruption of the launch, the battery installation has been postponed again.
Along with space rides, the station crew will perform scientific research and routine maintenance and will download five unmanned cargo ships – two Russian Progress cargo ships, two SpaceX Dragon supply ships and a Northrup Grumman Cygnus cargo capsule.
Kononenko, Saint-Jacques and McClain should return to Earth on June 25 to conclude a 203-day mission. Ovchinin, Hague and Koch will have the station for themselves between then and July 6 when three new members of the crew arrive: the commander of the Soyuz MS-13 / 59S Alexander Skvortsov, the NASA astronaut Drew Morgan and the Italian Luca Parmitano, a veteran astronaut of the European Space Agency.
That flight had been the last Russian mission to transport US astronauts as NASA transitions to commercial merchant ships built by SpaceX and Boeing. SpaceX launched its Crew Dragon spacecraft on an unmanned test flight on March 2nd and could be ready to launch the first astronauts in the midday period.
Hague and Koch trained for the Crew Dragon and Starliner anchors, the milestones of the Aja are "really big deal" for NASA, which allows the US space agency to end its unique dependence on the Russian Soyuz for transport to and from the space station.
But NASA is protecting its bets. The agency is buying two more Soyuz seats, one for the autumn and the other next spring, to make sure that US astronauts can reach the station if the commercial crew program suffers major delays.
Ovchinin, Hague and Koch are scheduled to return to Earth on October 3rd to conclude a 204-day mission.