CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) – NASA could soon target another year-long space mission thanks to an out-of-this-world Russian filmmaking deal.
Astronaut Mark Vande Hei learned last week that he will launch a Russian rocket to the International Space Station on April 9. The former station resident suspected that might happen and had been training just in case.
At a press conference Monday from the cosmonaut’s Star City headquarters, Vande Hei said he may have to give up his Soyuz seat back in the fall to a Russian space tourist who is interested in filming there. If that happens, he and possibly one of his two Russian crewmates would have to wait for the next Soyuz trip home, probably in the spring of 2022.
“Honestly, for me, it’s just an opportunity for a new life experience,” he told reporters. “I’ve never been in space for more than six months, so if someone tells me I have to stay in space for a year, I’ll find out how it feels. I’m really excited about it. “
The film is planned by Channel One of Russia and a television film studio. Tentatively titled “Vyzov,” a challenge in English, it is intended to highlight Russian space activities and glorify the profession of cosmonaut, according to a press release.
Five years have passed since now-retired astronaut Scott Kelly completed a 340-day space station mission, a record in the United States. Astronaut Christina Koch came close to that a year ago.
NASA is eager for extra-long missions to study the human body’s adaptation to weightlessness, especially if it looks toward expeditions to Mars of at least a few years. Space station missions typically last six months.
Vande Hei was added to the next Soyuz crew, colliding with a Russian, to maintain a US presence on the space station in case the next SpaceX astronaut flight experiences a major delay. SpaceX is targeting no earlier than April 22. Until the private company began offering rides last year, Russia provided the only lift for space station crews once NASA’s shuttles stopped flying.
Operations on the American side of the orbiting laboratory would be hampered if there were no Americans, only Russians, on board, according to Vande Hei. It is also a symbolic issue after 20 consecutive years of American astronauts in space, he noted. The astronauts who are there now must leave in April and May.
The good news is that NASA managed to launch their clothes there. Otherwise, the retired army colonel would have been stuck wearing much larger suits intended for someone else.
Vande Hei hopes to receive her second COVID-19 vaccine this week. Keep an eye out for wearing masks, even when he and his Russian crewmates are training in spacesuits.
“It’s not very comfortable, but it’s the right thing to do,” he said.
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