Soyuz TMA-11M docks increasing ISS to nine person crew

by Chris Bergin

The three person crew of Soyuz TMA-11M have arrived at the International Space Station (ISS) on Thursday, just six hours and 14 minutes after being launched by their Soyuz FG rocket. Using the fast track rendezvous, the arrival has temporarily increased the orbital outpost’s crew compliment to nine.

Soyuz TMA-11M:

Veteran Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin was joined on the Soyuz by NASA astronaut Rick Mastracchio and JAXA’s Koichi Wakata, with additional focus on the launch due to a publicity stunt related to the 2014 Winter Olympics.

The launch was shown live on one of the big screens in New York City’s Times Square, with the noble aim of attempting to interest Americans in the ISS, as much as some may wonder why the United States is advertising it no longer has the ability to launch its own astronauts.

“The space station serves as a unique laboratory for researchers around the world, home to astronauts from multiple countries, and was built with international cooperation, so it’s fitting to show the launch of the next crew in the most cosmopolitan city in the United States,” noted William Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for human exploration and operations.

As with a number of previous Soyuz and Progress launches, Soyuz TMA-11M also used the short cut route to the ISS, avoiding the two day journey of the past.

Initially carried out for a crewed mission by Soyuz TMA-08M, the well practised procedure – that was initially demonstrated on recent Progress resupply missions – was also conducted by the Soyuz TMA-09M and TMA-10M missions.

The desire to dock to the ISS after just six hours stems from the fact that spending two days in the cramped interior of the Soyuz along with two other crewmates is known to be a stressful and uncomfortable time for astronauts and cosmonauts, many of whom are suffering from symptoms of space sickness at the same time.

Z517Thus, being able to go from the ground to the ISS in a single day will be a big advantage to Soyuz crews.

Such a fast rendezvous was never attempted before as it requires extremely precise orbital adjustments from the ISS, and extremely precise orbital insertion by the Soyuz-FG booster, which was only deemed possible following a study conducted last year, which showed that such accuracy was achievable with the existing Soyuz-FG booster and modernized Soyuz TMA-M series spacecraft.

Following the launch of the reliable Soyuz FG rocket – along with a successful orbital insertion shortly thereafter – the Soyuz TMA-11M immediately performed the first two engine burns on its first orbit of the Earth, which were pre-programmed into the Soyuz’s on-board computer prior to launch.

Soyuz TMA dockingOn the second orbit, actual orbital parameters were uplinked from a Russian Ground Site (RGS), which allowed for a further eight rendezvous burns to be performed over the next five hours of flight.

During this time, the Soyuz crew were able to unstrap from their Kazbek couches and enter the Orbital Module (BO) to stretch their legs and use the bathroom facilities.

The crew areno strangers to space as they are chasing down the ISS, with this flight resulting in Tyurin’s third long-duration stay on the space station

Z8Mastracchio himself is a veteran of three space missions, serving with the STS-106, STS-118, and STS-131 shuttle missions, enjoying the company and protection of Atlantis, Endeavour and Discovery respectively. He also has six EVAs under his belt.

This is also Wakata’s fourth flight into space and second long-duration mission on the station. In March 2014, he will become the first Japanese commander of the space station.

The launch of Soyuz TMA-11M was set for the end of the month, prior to changes relating to a publicity stunt involving  the Olympic torch for the 2014 Winter Games.

Z5The 2014 Winter Olympics – the 22nd Winter Games – will be held between the 7th and 23rd February, 2014. Sochi was selected as the host city on 4 July, 2007 during the 119th IOC Session in Guatemala City, defeating bids from Salzburg, Austria; and Pyeongchang, South Korea.

This will be the first Olympic Games to be held in the Russian Federation, following on from the 1980 Summer Olympics, which were held in Moscow during the era of the Soviet Union.

The torch relay began in Moscow on October 7, 2013 – with a path that takes in 83 Russian cities, before arriving at Sochi on the day of the opening ceremony, February 7, 2014.

However, there will be a twist during the November leg of the relay, one that involves the ISS.

A replica torch is being carried uphill by Soyuz TMA-11M, allowing for a four day direct hand-over, with Soyuz TMA-09M – and its crew of Karen Nyberg (NASA), Fyodor Yurchikhin (Roscosmos) and Luca Parmitano (ESA) – returning on November 11.

Russian EVADuring that period, a spacewalk – known as RS EVA-36 – will involve a leg of the relay on the outside of the Station. The EVA will at least involve some actual tasks, including the installation of the high-resolution camera “UrtheCast” on universal workplace URM-D, located on Zvezda module.

The EVA – and the torch relay – will be performed by the two Russian cosmonauts from the Expedition 37/8 crew, namely Oleg Kotov and Sergei Ryazansky.

With the torch brought back inside the ISS, it will then fly back to Earth on the departing Soyuz TMA-09M, which was recently taken for a spin around the block via a relocation undocking and redocking requirement last Friday.

The torch ahead of the STS-79 missionThe previous associations between the space program and the Olympic torch were seen during STS-101, when a replica of the Olympic torch was carried aboard Space Shuttle Atlantis.  The torch relay also passed through the Kennedy Space Center, en-route to the Atlanta Games, ahead of STS-79′s mission to MIR.

On the Russian side, the Salyut 6 space station cosmonauts – Leonid Popov and Valery Ryumin – had a role in the opening ceremony of the 1980 Moscow Olympics.

Also, Olympic Cauldron at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum – which hosted the 1984 Summer Games – was lit for several days in 1986, in memory of Space Shuttle Challenger and her crew, lost during the disaster of STS-51L.

A torch also flew on Columbia, during her STS-78 mission, in tribute to the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

(Images: Via L2 and NASA)

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