THREE ASTRONAUTS LANDED safely at the International Space Station this morning, expanding the crew to six ahead of a busy 166-day expedition.
Russian Federal Space Agency cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin will eventually take over from Chris Hadfield as commander of the ISS and is joined by NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg and European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano.
Commander Pavel Vinogradov and flight engineers Alexander Misurkin and Chris Cassidy, who arrived at the station on 28 March, welcomed the new crew members aboard their orbital home at 5.14am (Irish time).
Vinogradov will continue as commander until he leaves in September. Then Expedition 37, under the command of Yurchikhin, will maintain the station as a three-person crew until the next arrivals at the end of September.
Despite the gruelling trip, all six crew members participated in a welcome ceremony with family members and mission officials gathered at Baikonur.
“It was a pretty cool ride,” Nyberg told her husband on Earth via video linkup.
During the five-and-a-half month timeframe of Expedition 36/37, the crew is scheduled to conduct five spacewalks to prepare the complex for the installation of the Russian Multipurpose Laboratory Module in December.
On 9 November, there will be a special spacewalk to take the Olympic torch outside.
The crew will also continue research about how plants grow in the hope that it could lead to more efficient crops on Earth and improving understanding of how future crews could grow their own food in space.
Studying how fire behaves in space will have a direct impact on future spaceflight, according to NASA, as it could lead to cleaner, more efficient combustion engines on Earth. Therefore, the crew will also test a new portable gas monitor designed to help analyse the environment inside the spacecraft and continue fuel and combustion experiments.
The new crew
US astronaut Karen Nyberg ahead of the launch. (Mikhail Metzel/AP/Press Association Images)
This is Nyberg’s second space mission. She last visited the ISS in 2008 aboard the shuttle Discovery to deliver and install pressurised module portion of the Kibo laboratory and its robotic arm.
Nyberg, Yurchikhin and Parmitano walk prior the launch of their Soyuz-FG rocket at the Russian leased Baikonur cosmodrome, Kazakhstan, Tuesday, 28 May. (AP Photo/Mikhail Metzel)
Yurchikhin, somewhat of an old-hand at exploration, has already taken part in three spaceflights, performed five spacewalks and spent more than 371 days in space. He flew to the station in October 2002 aboard space shuttle Atlantis. He also participated in two long-duration missions aboard the station, first as an Expedition 15 crew member in 2007 and then as a member of Expedition 24/25 in 2010.
Parmitano is welcomed onto the ISS. (NASA/YouTube)
Parmitano, a major in the Italian Air Force, is making his first spaceflight. Selected as an astronaut candidate by ESA in 2008, Parmitano was certified as an astronaut in 2011. He said he was particularly excited for the expedition after years of gruelling training and practise.
He intends to encourage and inspire children to stay fit and healthy through the international Mission X contest. Older children have also been asked to take up a European space robotics challenge by creating remote-controlled robots that help to unload a mockup of ATVAlbert Einstein.
The trio climbed aboard the ISS at about 5.14am Irish time today. Their flight had begun at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 9.31pm Tuesday. After an almost six-hour journey from the launch pad to the orbiting complex, the Soyuz TMA-09M spacecraft docked with the ISS’s Rassvet module at 3.10am.
The Soyuz took a shortcut during its journey, making it just the second flight to arrive at the ISS in such a short time. In fact, they were eight times faster than the usual two-day process, according to the ESA.
Following a series of manoeuvres during four orbits of our planet, Soyuz docked with the Station’s Rassvet module five hours and 39 minutes after liftoff.
The abridged journey had rarely been tried in the past because it puts greater stress on the astronauts’ bodies. But one such trip was successfully completed earlier this year and Russia decided to repeat the experience with a view to making the six-hour journey the norm for future travel to the ISS.
Can Hadfield actually be replaced?
However, Nyberg has potential. On Monday, she tweeted:
“Was recently reminded by my sisters of a poster I had on my bedroom wall when I was a kid.”