A Russian Soyuz TMA-20M spacecraft launched three new crewmembers en route to the International Space Station (ISS) on Friday. Launch occurred from pad No. 1 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 21:26 UTC (17:26 Eastern) followed by docking with the ISS six hours later at 03:09 UTC on 19 March (Eastern on 18 March).
Soyuz TMA-20M (callsign Burlak – a person who hauled barges and other vessels upstream from the 17th to 20th centuries in the Russian Empire) is scheduled to be the 129th flight of a Soyuz vehicle and the first of four planned crew transportation missions to the Space Station in 2016.
Following liftoff on the Soyuz-FG rocket from pad No. 1 at Baikonur, the same pad used by Yuri Gagarin in 1961 for the historic first human trip to space, the Soyuz-FG rocket performed a nine minute, multi-staged ascent to Earth orbit, after which Soyuz TMA-20M separated from the booster, deploy its solar arrays, and begin a six-hour, four-orbit rendezvous dance with the ISS.
During its first orbit, the Soyuz was tasked with performing the first two pre-programed engine burns, which were monitored by its three-person crew as well as mission controllers in Moscow.
After these burns, the crew had the ability to perform a series of minor burns to correct any booster performance discrepancies discovered in the initial post-insertion timeline.
These correction burns are always available to Soyuz crews; however, they are sometimes not required due to precision work by the Soyuz-FG booster.
Subsequently, as Soyuz moved into its second orbit, Mission Control – Moscow (MCC-M) uplinked additional orbital parameters from a Russian Ground Site (RGS) ahead of a further eight rendezvous burns over the following hours of flight.
During this second orbit, the crew unstrapped from their Kazbek couches and entered the Orbital Module to make final preparations for docking with the Station.
Two orbits later, Soyuz TMA-20M entered the vicinity of the ISS and aimed for an automated docking with the zenith port of the Poisk docking module.
Following soft dock, hooks and latches were driven to secure the Soyuz firmly to the ISS, known as hard dock.
Once all leak checks were completed, hatches between Soyuz TMA-20M and the ISS were opened ahead of greetings with the Expedition 47 crew, which includes NASA astronaut and ISS Commander Tim Kopra, British astronaut Tim Peake, and Russian cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko – who are three months into their sixth month stay aboard the orbiting laboratory.
Soyuz TMA-20M crew:
The primary objective of the Soyuz TMA-20M mission is to safely deliver and return three crewmembers to and from the ISS: Soyuz Commander Aleksey Ovchinin (Russian Federal Space Agency – RSA), Oleg Skripochka (RSA), and NASA astronaut Jeff Williams.
Together, these three crewmembers will join the in-progress Expedition 47 – which began earlier this month with the undocking of the Soyuz TMA-18M spacecraft on 2 March 2016.
For Expedition 47, Ovchinin, Skripochka, and Williams will serve as Flight Engineers before transferring to Expedition 48 upon the undocking of Soyuz TMA-19M in June 2016.
At this point, Williams will serve as Commander of Expedition 48, with Ovchinin and Skripochka continuing to serve as Flight Engineers.
In September, Ovchinin, Skripochka, and Williams – after six months on orbit – will board their Soyuz TMA-20M spacecraft, undock from the ISS (ending Expedition 48), and return to Earth.
Aleksey Ovchinin was born on 28 September 1971 in Rybinsk, Yaroslavl Oblast, Russian SFSR and spent two years as a cadet at the Borisoglebsk Higher Military Pilot School before moving on to Yeisk Higher Military Pilot School from 1990-1992.
While at Yeisk, Ovchinin qualified as a pilot-engineer, after which he served as a pilot instructor in the Training Aviation Regiment (TAR) at Yeisk Higher Military Pilot School until February 1998.
Following his TAR post, Ovchinin was appointed commander of the aviation section of Krasnodar Military Aviation Institute before moving on to command the aviation unit of the 70th Separate Test Training Aviation Regiment of Special Purpose.
Throughout this portion of his career, Ovchinin amassed over 1,300 flying hours in Yakovlev Yak-52 and Aero L-39 Albatros aircraft.
In 2006, he was selected as a cosmonaut candidate and began training at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center.
Ovchinin participated in water landing Soyuz training in June 2008 before qualifying as a test cosmonaut on 9 June 2009.
On 26 April 2010, Ovchinin was finally certified as a cosmonaut, after which he was dismissed from the Armed Services and classified as a “reserve.”
Ovchinin was subsequently assigned as part of the backup crew for Soyuz TMA-16M (March-September 2015) before earning his post as part of the prime crew for Soyuz TMA-20M, for which he will serve as Commander.
Born 24 December 1969 in Nevinnomyssk, Stavropol Krai, Russia, Oleg Ivanovich Skripochka is a veteran cosmonaut and Flight Engineer aboard the International Space Station.
A graduate of the Bauman Moscow State Technical University, Skripochka earned a degree as a mechanical engineer in rocket construction prior to his work as an engineer in Energia’s RSC project bureau with a specific focus on the design and development of transport and cargo vehicles.
Following this work, he was selected in 1997 as a test cosmonaut and undertook the advanced space training course from 1998-1999 before he was officially selected as a cosmonaut.
After seven years of ground operations, Skripochka was assigned as a backup crew member to Expedition 17, for which he trained from April 2007 to April 2008, after which he was officially assigned in August 2008 as an ISS Flight Engineer for Expeditions 25 and 26.
Prior to his time on the ISS, Skripochka was awarded the Hero of the Russian Federation and Pilot Cosmonaut of the Russian Federation titles on 12 April 2011 – the 50th anniversary of Yuri Gagarin’s first human spaceflight mission.
Skripochka’s first spaceflight launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on 7 October 2010 aboard the Soyuz TMA-01M spacecraft.
During his time on the station, Skripochka performed three spacewalks and oversaw part of Station operations during the final flight of Space Shuttle Discovery in February-March 2011.
On 16 March 2011, Skripochka departed the ISS and returned to Earth after 159 days in space.
Colonel Jeffrey N. Williams was born on 18 January 1958 in Superior, Wisconsin, and earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Applied Science in Engineering from the U.S. Military Academy in 1980 before earning a Master of Science Degree in Aeronautical Engineering and a degree of Aeronautical Engineering from the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School in 1987.
Williams also earned a Master of Arts degree in National Security and Strategic Studies from the U.S. Naval War College in 1996 and an honorary Doctorate of Business Administration from Johnson and Wales University in 2007.
Williams himself was commissioned in the U.S. Army as a second Lieutenant in May 1980 before receiving a designation as an Army Aviator in September 1981.
Following an overseas deployment, Williams returned to the U.S. and after completing his graduate program in Aeronautical Engineering was assigned by the U.S. Army to the Johnson Space Center where he supported various aspects of the Space Shuttle program.
In 1992, Williams attended the Naval Test Pilot school, where he graduated first in his class in 1993.
After this, Williams served as an experimental test pilot and the Flight Test Division Chief in the Army’s Airworthiness Qualification Test Directorate at Edwards Air Force Base.
In 1996, William subsequently applied for entry into NASA’s astronaut corps and was selected as an astronaut candidate later that year.
After completing astronaut candidate training, Williams was assigned to the Extra-Vehicular Activity, Space Station, and Soyuz branches of the astronaut office at Johnson Space Center.
During his initial years as an astronaut, Williams oversaw cockpit upgrades for the Space Shuttle program, served at the Marshall Space Flight Center supporting ISS laboratory module evaluations, and then served at NASA Headquarters where he worked on legislative affairs for the agency.
Williams was then assigned to his first space mission, for which he served as Flight Engineer and lead spacewalker aboard the STS-101 flight of the Space Shuttle Atlantis from 19 to 29 May 2000.
In July 2002, Williams served as commander of the nine-day coral reef expedition for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Aquarius habitat off the coast of Florida.
Williams was subsequently assigned as a flight engineer for the Expedition 13 mission to the International Space Station, which launched on 29 March 2006 aboard the Soyuz TMA-8 spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
During Expedition 13, Williams spent six months aboard the Space Station, performed two spacewalks, and helped oversee the re-expansion of ISS crew back to 3 people during the STS-121 visit of shuttle Discovery in July 2006 as well as the resumption of Space Station construction operations via the STS-115 flight of the shuttle Atlantis in September 2006.
Williams returned to Earth at the end of the Expedition 13 mission on 28 September 2006.
Williams was quickly reassigned to another mission aboard the Station – as Flight Engineer on Expedition 21 and Commander of Expedition 22.
Williams’ third spaceflight launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome on 30 September 2009 aboard the Soyuz TMA-16 spacecraft and arrived at the ISS on 2 October.
During this six-month mission, Williams performed numerous in-flight experiments and maintenance aboard the Station as well as oversaw the arrival of the STS-129 mission of the shuttle Atlantis to deliver two large external pallets and spare parts to the ISS as well as the STS-130 flight of the shuttle Endeavour, which delivered the Tranquility module and the Cupola viewing port.
Williams’ third mission ended on 18 March 2010 with a Soyuz landing in Kazakhstan.
After this, Williams was assigned as backup for Scott Kelly during the Year In Space mission before he was assigned as part of the prime crew for Expeditions 47 and 48.
To date, Williams has spent over 362 days in Earth orbit.
If the entirety of his upcoming mission lasts for the expected duration, Williams will eclipse the record set by Scott Kelly just this past year for the most cumulative time spent by a NASA astronaut in space.
(Image: NASA and Roscosmos)