A Russian Soyuz spacecraft will launch an American astronaut and two cosmonauts to the International Space Station early Friday (April 9), and you can watch it live online.
The Soyuz capsule carrying NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei, Oleg Novitskiy and Pyotr Dubrov is scheduled to launch on a Soyuz rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 3:42 a.m. EDT (0742 GMT or 12:42 p.m. local) on Friday for a quick, three-hour trip to the International Space Station.
You can watch the action live. here on Space.com, courtesy of NASA, or directly through the space agency. Launch coverage will begin at 2:45 am EDT (0745 GMT).
Video: Astronaut Mark Vande Hei prepares for his last minute space flight
If all goes according to plan, the trio’s spacecraft will dock with the space station around 7:07 a.m. EDT (1107 GMT). Coverage of that event will begin at 6:15 am EDT (1015 GMT). NASA will also webcast the hatch opening and crew or flight controller comments, which are expected to occur around 8:30 am EDT (1230 GMT).
This mission will be the second spaceflight for Vande Hei, the third for the Soyuz Novitskiy commander and the first for Dubrov.
NASA announced Vande Hei’s participation in this mission last month. Generally, crew members for long-duration space station missions receive years of notification Vande Hei accelerated by NASA after the agency’s plans to switch to commercial crew opportunities were complicated by ongoing technical issues with Boeing Starliner astronaut taxi, which may delay the first crewed flight of that vehicle until 2022.
(Like Boeing, SpaceX has a contract with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule is operational and has already brought two crews to the lab in orbit.)
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Vande Hei had some notice of the flight before the public announcement, he told Space.com in an exclusive interview. “Preparing for this flight was something we had done as a contingency, just in case we could get a seat,” he said.
NASA usually buys seats aboard the Soyuz. But in this case, NASA and Roscosmos, Russia’s federal space agency, instead agreed to swap seats: Vande Hei on the Soyuz for a Roscosmos astronaut to be determined on a future commercial crew flight. Flight assignments are still being determined while NASA works out the problems with commercial crew scheduling, and Vande Hei may, therefore, spend a year instead of the usual six months in space. But that has yet to be fully decided.
“Things change and … we have to coordinate with the Russians, Roscosmos in particular, to find out when to return,” Vande Hei told Space.com.
His previous space flight lasted six months. So Vande Hei said that he will look forward to a new “life experience” if he is tasked with staying on the air for a year.
The three-person Soyuz MS-18 crew will join seven Expedition 64 spacecraft currently in the orbiting laboratory, so one of the largest crews in recent history. The seven people already there arrived in two spaceships last year. A Soyuz carried NASA astronaut Kate Rubins and cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov to the station in October. Then a SpaceX Crew Dragon sent NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker, as well as Japan’s Soichi Noguchi, to the orbital complex in November.
Friday’s launch will occur three days before the 60th anniversary of the first human spaceflight, from the same location that hosted that historic liftoff. On April 12, 1961, the Soviet Union Yuri gagarin launched into Earth orbit from Baikonur. The Russian space agency Roscosmos named the Soyuz MS-18 Gagarin spacecraft after the famous cosmonaut.
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