A Soyuz FG rocket launched the Soyuz TMA-16M spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome ahead of a successful docking with the International Space Station (ISS) on Friday. Onboard the Russian workhorse were Cosmonauts Gennady Padalka and Mikail Kornienko, along with NASA astronaut Scott Kelly. Kornienko and Kelly will both spend a full year on the orbital outpost.
Friday’s launch was another fast-track six-hour launch-to-docking mission, first carried out for a crewed mission by Soyuz TMA-08M.
While their trip uphill was speedy, Kelly and Kornienko are embarking on a long duration expedition – the first-ever yearlong mission to the station.
Kornienko has already logged 176 days 1 hour and 18 minutes in space, flying on Soyuz TMA-18 and serving as ISS-23 flight engineer. He also has a spacewalk to his name.
The Russian will be spending a full year on Station, with the valuable scientific data collected providing insight into how the human body responds to longer durations in space.
He was joined by NASA veteran flyer Scott Kelly, who flew on two shuttle missions and served as Expedition 26 commander during a six-month tour of the Station.
During his one-year stay on the orbital outpost, Kelly will serve as Flight Engineer for increments 43 and 44 and Commander for increments 45 and 46. During his tour, his twin brother – former NASA astronaut Mark Kelly – will also be monitored to measure the differences between one year on Earth and 12 months in space.
The third member of Soyuz TMA-16M, Gennady Padalka, should not be overlooked. While the focus has been on his fellow Soyuz passengers, Padalka will also be realizing another milestone at the conclusion of his ISS expedition – as he becomes the most experienced space traveler in history.
He will also become the first four-time commander of the International Space Station.
When Padalka departs the ISS and returns to Earth later this year, he will have spent a record 878 days in space combined. 878 days works out to about 29 months of space flight.
Kicking off these historic milestones was the launch of the Soyuz FG from Baikonur before the Soyuz TMA spacecraft was tasked with achieving a fast-track six-hour journey to rendezvous with the Station.
The desire to dock to the ISS after just six hours of flight 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 suffer from symptoms of space sickness at the same time.
A good start to the one-year expedition was a bonus for this Soyuz’s passengers.
Such a fast rendezvous was never attempted until recent years 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 major review a few years ago.
That study proved such accuracy was achievable with the existing Soyuz-FG booster and modernized Soyuz TMA-M series spacecraft.
Following the launch, Soyuz TMA-16M was immediately tasked with performing 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.
Further burns, such as Dv3 and Dv4, were available to correct booster performance discrepancies had they been required.
With all priority tasks going to plan, the second orbit allowed for additional orbital parameters to be uplinked from a Russian Ground Site (RGS), ahead of a further eight rendezvous burns that were performed over the following 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 Soyuz TMA-16M then entered the vicinity of the ISS to aim for a docking with the station’s Poisk module.
This was successful completed, with hooks and latches driven to secure the Soyuz firmly to the ISS. Leak checks followed.
Once all checks were completed, the hatches were opened ahead of greetings with Expedition 43 Commander Terry Virts of NASA and his crewmates, Anton Shkaplerov of Roscosmos and Samantha Cristoforetti of ESA.
(Images via NASA, Roscosmos, and L2).