International Space Station astronauts do a Soyuz shuffle

The Soyuz MS-17 crew ship, with three Expedition 64 crew members inside, is pictured after undocking from the Rassvet module beginning its short trip to the Poisk module.
The Soyuz MS-17 crew ship, with three Expedition 64 crew members inside, is pictured after undocking from the Rassvet module beginning its short trip to the Poisk module. NASA TV

This is shaping up to be a busy month on the International Space Station (ISS) with a craft arriving to drop off more astronauts to join the crew. To prepare for the arrival of an incoming flight, this week the crew had to take a Soyuz craft currently docked with the ISS on an extremely short trip around to the other side of the station.

The ISS has various ports on its modules to which visiting ships can dock, which is useful as craft often need to remain docked for months after their arrival. Currently docked with the station is a Russian Soyuz MS-17, which arrived in October last year and carried three astronauts: NASA’s Kate Rubins and Roscosmos’s Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov.

Now, a second Soyuz is set to arrive in early April. The Soyuz MS-18 will carry three more astronauts, NASA’s Mark Vande-Hei and Roscosmos’s Oleg Novitsky and Pyotr Dubrov, to join the crew. But the MS-18 is to dock on the Earth-facing port on the Rassvet module, which the MS-17 was occupying.

So on Friday, March 19, current ISS crew members moved the MS-17 from its current location to the space-facing Poisk port. The operation began at 12:38 p.m. ET and was completed by 1:12 p.m., as it required just a very small hop.

Although such maneuvers have been common, with a total of 18 relocations happening in the past, they have not often been necessary in recent years. According to NASA, the last time such a maneuver occurred was August 2019.

With the arrival of the three new astronauts, the ISS will be exceptionally busy with a total of 10 crew members on board. This won’t be for long though, as on April 17 Rubins, Ryzhikov, and Kud-Sverchkov will head back into the same Soyuz MS-17 which carried them to the ISS and which they just relocated for their trip back to Earth.

This will leave Vande-Hei, Novitsky, and Dubrov along with current crew members Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, Soichi Noguchi, and Shannon Walker, as the seven members of the new Expedition 65 crew.

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