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ISS crew size returns to six with docking of Soyuz TMA-20M

Crew Portrait

Jeffrey Willaims (left), Aleksey Ovchinin (center), and Oleg Skripochka launched in their Soyuz spacecraft on Friday, March 18. They arrived at the International Space Station about six hours later. Photo Credit: NASA

Six hours after blasting off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, two Russians and one American docked their Soyuz TMA-20M spacecraft with the International Space Station (ISS), returning the crew size of the orbiting outpost to six people.

Soyuz TMA=20M launch

Soyuz TMA-20M leapt off the pad at 5:26 p.m. EDT (21:26 GMT) on March 18 at Site 1/5 at Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Photo Credit: NASA

Russian cosmonauts Aleksey Ovchinin and Oleg Skripochka with NASA astronaut Jeffrey Williams arrived at the orbiting outpost at 10:09 p.m. CDT on March 18 (03:09 GMT on March 19) in Soyuz TMA-20M. They docked with the Poisk module and—after equalizing the pressure and conducting leak checks—opened the hatch of their spacecraft to enter the ISS at 12:18 a.m. CDT (05:18 GMT).

First through the Soyuz hatch was Williams, followed by Ovchinin and Skripochka. The three joined Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko, NASA astronaut Tim Kopra (the current commander of ISS), and British astronaut Tim Peake, who have been in space since December, to complete the full six-person crew of Expedition 47.

After greeting each other in the docking compartment, the six made their way to the Zvezda service module to participate in a video conference with family and friends. Afterward, the new additions to the crew were given a safety briefing before settling in for their first sleep period on this flight.

The Soyuz TMA-20M spacecraft approaches the ISS. Photo Credit: NASA

The Soyuz TMA-20M spacecraft approaches the ISS. Photo Credit: NASA

Over the next several months, they will work together to continue several hundred experiments in biology, biotechnology, as well as physical and Earth sciences that are currently underway and scheduled to be performed aboard the ISS.

Malenchenko, Kopra, and Peake are scheduled to leave the outpost on June 5 after spending nearly six months in space, ending Expedition 47 and beginning Expedition 48. Before doing so, Kopra will hand over command of the space station to Williams on June 4. Ovchinin, Skripochka, and Williams will stay aboard ISS until September before returning to Earth.

By the time Williams returns to terra firma, he will have become the new U.S. record holder for the most cumulative days in space—534 in total—surpassing Scott Kelly’s recently set record of 520 days. This is Williams’ third ISS expedition and fourth space flight overall.

Ovchinin is on his first space flight. He was selected as a cosmonaut in 2006. Skripochka is on his second mission—his first being a member of the Expedition 25/26 crew increments in 2010 and 2011.

Skripochka is also the first person to ride to space on both on the maiden and final flights of a spacecraft type. In 2010, he rode uphill in Soyuz TMA-01M, the first of the new TMA-M series of Soyuz. It sported a number of upgrades, including a digitized main computer and older analogue equipment replaced with modern devices.

Soyuz TMA-20M is the last of this series. It will be replaced by the MS-series in June of this year, incorporating more efficient solar panels, a new communications system that will communicate with the Russian GLONASS navigation satellite constellation, and an upgraded approach and docking system.

Video courtesy of NASA TV


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.

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