Scott Kelly preps for homecoming, station preps for heavy traffic
As the one-year crew members, NASA astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Korniyenko, prepare for their journey back to Earth, the International Space Station (ISS) program gears up for a heavy month of visiting vehicle traffic at the orbiting outpost.
Kelly and Korniyenko launched to ISS on March 27, 2015. They will return home in the Soyuz TMA-18M spacecraft on March 1, 2016 (March 2, local Kazakhstan time) with Sergey Volkov, who has been on board the orbiting lab since September of 2015.
Over the course of their 340-day stay, the one-year duo will have orbited Earth some 5,440 times and traveled more than 143 million miles (230 million kilometers). During that time, nearly 400 experiments have been conducted in areas ranging from life sciences, robotics, biology and more.
“I’m hoping what we find is a lot of information that will help us eventually continue our path towards Mars,” Kelly said in a media conference from the space station.
Kelly said that he feels pretty good, despite being away from the people he loves.
“I think the hardest part is being isolated, in a physical sense, from the people on the ground that are important to you,” Kelly said, “There is certainly a loss of connection with folks on the ground that you care for and love and want to spend time with.”
Kelly noted that going to Mars will bring a lot of other challenges, both technical and physical, but he doesn’t think that any of them can’t be overcome. He went on to state that he could go another year aboard ISS if he had to.
“It would just depend on what I was doing and if it made sense, although I do look forward to getting home here [this] week,” Kelly said.
After TMA-18M leaves the space station, the remaining crew, NASA astronaut Tim Kopra, European Space Agency astronaut Tim Peake and Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko, will be joined two-and-a-half weeks later, on March 19, by Russian cosmonauts Aleksey Ovchinin and Oleg Skripochka and NASA astronaut Jeffrey Williams.
Ovchinin, Skripochka and Williams will launch aboard TMA-20M, the final TMA-M series Soyuz before a modernized MS series begins flying over the summer.
This will be Ovchinin’s first space flight and Skripochka’s second flight to the ISS—his first occurring in 2010 as part of the Expedition 25/26 increment.
Williams is a veteran of three previous trips to orbit. His first was in May of 2000 aboard Space Shuttle Atlantis during mission STS-101 to service the burgeoning space station—before the first expeditions began to arrive. His other two missions were part of Expedition 13 and Expedition 21/22 increments in 2006 and 2009 respectively.
Williams total time spent in space over those three flights was 362 days. When he arrives to the orbiting outpost in mid-March, he will be the first American to undergo a third long-duration stay aboard ISS. If the schedule holds, when Williams returns to Earth in September, he will have accumulated 534 days in space, surpassing Kelly’s 522 days.
Just four days after the new trio arrive, United Launch Alliance (ULA) is scheduled to launch an Atlas V 401 rocket with Orbital ATK’s OA-6 Cygnus cargo ship. The uncrewed spacecraft will take about two days to rendezvous with the station before it will be captured by the space station’s robotic arm and berthed to the Unity module on March 25.
Additionally, Progress M-29M, a Russian cargo ship docked at the aft port of the Zvezda service module will depart on March 29. It will burn up in the atmosphere, taking with it unneeded equipment and trash.
This will free up a docking port for the next cargo ship, Progress MS-2, when it launches on a six-hour trek to ISS on March 31.
Finally, SpaceX currently has a no-earlier-than launch date of April 1 for their next space station cargo ship, CRS-8. This will be the company’s first ISS supply run since June 2015 when the doomed CRS-7 mission was lost in a mishap just over two minutes into flight.
During this heavy traffic period, the crew will continue to conduct cutting edge science. Over the next six months, many dozens more experiments will be performed.
“The space station here is a magical place; It’s an incredible science facility we have,” Kelly said, “It’s a privilege to fly here. It’s something that I hope more people will have the opportunity to do in the future. I think we will, it’s just a matter of time.”
Video courtesy of NASA
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 blog about the International Space Station, called Orbital Velocity.