All-Russian Soyuz crew docks with International Space Station
For the first time, a Soyuz spacecraft with only Russian cosmonaut International Space Station crew members launched and docked to the orbiting outpost.
Aboard Soyuz MS-21 were Oleg Artemyev, Denis Matveev and Sergey Korsakov. They launched atop a Soyuz rocket at 11:55 a.m. EDT (15:55 UTC) March 18, 2022, from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and docked at the space station two two orbits later at 3:12 p.m. EDT (19:12 UTC).
During the approach, there was a minor alignment glitch, which prompted Artemyev to manually pilot the Soyuz to the Earth-facing port of the Prichal module. This was the first time that a spacecraft docked to that module, which launched last November.
After spending a couple hours performing leak checks between the spacecraft and space station, the new cosmonaut trio entered the ISS. They joined the in-progress Expedition 66 crew, which includes Russian cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov, NASA astronauts Mark Vande Hei, Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn and Kayla Barron, and European Space Agency astronaut Matthias Maurer.
The fresh trio is planning to stay at the ISS for about six months. They are replacing Shkaplerov, Dubrov and Vande Hei, who are returning to Earth in Soyuz MS-19 on March 30.
While Shkaplerov has been in space since October 2021, Dubrov and Vande Hei have been orbiting Earth since April 9, 2021. Those two have accumulated 355 days in space upon their return.
When they undock, Expedition 66 will formally end Expedition 67 will begin.
The all-Russian crew of Soyuz MS-21 has been planned for months as NASA opted to not acquire a seat on Soyuz MS-21 and is instead expected to begin a seat swap program starting later this year. In that seat swap, a Russian cosmonaut would fly in a Crew Dragon and a U.S. astronaut would fly in a Soyuz. This ensures both countries are represented on the space station at all times.
Historically, Soyuz spacecraft bound for the ISS have always had at least one U.S. astronaut, an international astronaut or a spaceflight participant.
For now, the next couple of weeks at the ISS is expected to be extremely busy with multiple crews coming and going. Several days after Soyuz MS-19 lands, a SpaceX Crew Dragon is set to send an all-private mission to the outpost with four people.
On April 3, this private Axiom Space mission is scheduled to send former NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria and spaceflight participants Larry Connor, Mark Pathy and Eytan Stibbe to the outpost for a 10-day science mission.
After they leave, a NASA crew-rotation mission is slated to launch, also via a Crew Dragon spacecraft from Florida. That’s scheduled for April 19.
Crew-4 is set to fly NASA astronauts Kjell Lindgren, Bob Hines and Jessica Watkins, as well as European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti to the station for a five-month stay.
They’ll be replacing the Crew-3 astronauts — Chari, Marshburn, Barron and Maurer — who have been in space since November. Crew-3 will splashdown in the ocean off the coast of Florida about a week after Crew-4 arrives at the ISS.
All told, 18 different people will be on the space station over the course of about a month or so with up to 11 people at the same time.
Video courtesy of Roscosmos
Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a website about human spaceflight called Orbital Velocity. You can find him on twitter @TheSpaceWriter.