A Soyuz spacecraft with three astronauts on board, one American and two Russian, docked this Wednesday to the International Space Station (ISS) in record time, just 3 hours after takeoff.
Russian cosmonauts Sergei Ryjikov and Sergei Kud-Svershkov and American astronaut Kathleen Rubins departed from the Russian Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 05h45 GMT, arriving three hours later at the ISS, 408 kilometers from Earth.
“3 hours and 3 minutes,” Roskosmos head Dimitri Rogozin wrote on Twitter to celebrate this new brand. The ship arrived at the station four minutes before the scheduled time.
The Russian Soyuz MS-17 rocket “docked” at 0848 GMT with the space station, the Russian space agency Roskosmos said in a statement. “A new record has been set, he added. With this record, the time of manned flights to the ISS was cut in half, which previously took at least six hours.
The trip was made possible thanks to a new guidance system for Soyuz rockets, which allows the Station to be approached in just two orbits, against the three previously required.
This system was tested already in April 2019 with a Progress spacecraft that supplies material for the Space Station.
– “I feel very lucky” –
The three occupants of the Soyuz have taken extra precautions during this period of the global coronavirus pandemic, thus following a strict quarantine to avoid bringing COVID-19 with them to the ISS.
“In my case, more or less since the month of March,” said Kathleen Rubins during the press conference prior to the launch preparations for the Soyuz. They were also tested very often, he added.
This trip has a particular value for the North American Rubins since the ship took off on Wednesday, the day that it turns 42.
“You can’t pick the release date or what happens at the Station so I feel very lucky,” said Rubins.
For Rubins, this will be his second flight. As for Sergei Kud-Svershkov, 42, this is his first flight. Finally, Sergei Ryjikov, a military pilot by training, is the most experienced of the three: he has spent 173 days in space, for 115 days in Rubins.
The astronaut and the two Russian cosmonauts join the three current occupants of the ISS: Chris Cassidy from NASA and Anatoli Ivanishín and Ivan Vagner from the Russian Space Agency Roskosmos. The latter are scheduled to return to Earth on October 22.
The takeoff of this Russian spacecraft to the Space Station is the first since last May 30 the American rocket SpaceX broke nine years of Russian monopoly on trips to the ISS, managing to take off from the John F. Kennedy Space Center (Florida) .
The ISS, however, remains one of the few examples of cooperation between Russians and Westerners. Astronauts from both countries have highlighted the ability of space travel to unite rival nations for a common cause.
Despite this cooperation, Roskosmos chief Dimitri Rogozin announced this week that Russia will not participate in the future station that the United States wants to orbit the Moon, and which they plan to assemble starting in 2023.
This station, dubbed the Lunar Gateway “in its present form is too American,” Rogozin announced Monday.