With so much coverage given these days to unmanned rocket launches by the likes of SpaceX and Blue Origin, you’d be forgiven for forgetting that we do actually continue to stick folks inside those super-powerful contraptions and send them into space.
The latest crewed launch (above) took place on Wednesday, June 6, transporting three astronauts — American Serena M. Aunon-Chancellor, German Alexander Gerst, and Russian Sergey Prokopyev — to the International Space Station (ISS).
The astronauts’ Russian-built Soyuz MS-09 rocket lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome facility in Kazakhstan at 7:12 a.m. ET for a six-month stay on the space station.
According to NASA, the trio will orbit Earth a total of 34 times before arriving at the outpost on Friday, June 8.
A faster 4-orbit/6-hour or a 2-orbit/3-hour journey is usually possible, but space station positioning requirements to ensure a daytime landing for the departing Soyuz MS-07 crew earlier in the week prevented the possibility of a quicker trip for the new crew, SpaceFlight.com reported.
The space agency plans to live-stream the docking process and also show the astronauts moving from the spacecraft to the ISS to join the current crew: Americans Drew Feustel and Ricky Arnold, and Latvian Oleg Artemyev.
You can catch the coverage from 8:15 a.m. ET, with the docking expected to take place at 9:07 a.m. ET. The hatch opening will occur at just after 11 a.m. ET, with the three astronauts entering the space station soon after.
Once on board, the crew will spend their time carrying out around 250 different science investigations in fields such as biology, Earth science, human research, physical sciences, and technology development.
“Highlights of upcoming investigations include a new facility to study ultra-cold quantum gases, the first commercial European facility to conduct microgravity research, and a system that uses surface forces to accomplish liquid-liquid separation,” NASA said.
Time will tell if any of the new crew members gain the profile of some earlier ISS inhabitants, including Chris Hadfield who became an online star for his cover of Bowie’s Space Oddity, among other things, and Tim Peake, who had a fun time explaining how space toilets work and why somersaults in the space station don’t make you dizzy.
SpaceX crew capsule
With a view to deploying its reusable rocket system for crewed trips to and from the space station, SpaceX is continuing to develop its Dragon capsule.
The capsule has already made several trips to and from the space station, taking supplies and other cargo.
The astronaut-carrying version of the Dragon includes seven seats, a bank of monitors offering the crew real-time flight data, a climate-control system for added comfort, and plenty of windows so the space travelers can gaze in awe at the stunning scenery.
SpaceX is aiming to play a part in helping NASA to return human spaceflight launches to American soil while ferrying astronauts to and from the ISS, while its long-term goal is to build a reliable, reusable, and cost-effective rocket system for far more ambitious journeys to Mars and beyond.