Following quick on the heels of the Soyuz MS-02 launch on 19 October, the Russian Federal Space Agency (Roscosmos) launched the Soyuz MS-03 spacecraft this week, ahead of delivering a new three person crew for Expeditions 50/51. The flight launched at 20:20 GMT (15:20 EST) on Thursday and was followed by two-day orbital rendezvous ahead of docking with the orbital laboratory on Saturday.
MS-03 represents the 132nd flight of a crewed Soyuz vehicle and the 58th launch of the Soyuz-FG rocket variant, which entered service on 20 May 2001.
Following delays to the previous MS-02 mission, MS-03 remained firmly on track for launch on 16 November 2016 (GMT) until 25 October – when liftoff was delayed 24 hours to 17 November to allow for an orbital trajectory change to a two-day rendezvous profile instead of the originally planned fast-tracked, four-orbit rendezvous.
While all on-orbit testing of the new MS-series of crewed and uncrewed Soyuz vehicles is complete and the crafts themselves are understood to have been cleared to perform fast-tracked rendezvous profiles with the ISS, Roscosmos’ critical Klion-R command station – that allows for such rendezvous profiles for the MS-series Soyuz – in Vostochnyi is not yet operational.
For MS-03 itself, final preparations for flight began in earnest on 1 November 2016 when the three person crew arrived at Baikonur.
The following day, the crew was deep into final interfaces and checkouts of the MS-03 Soyuz – including final technical training involving ground and vehicle operations.
Testing on 2 November included leak checks by each crewmember of their Sokol-KV suits, checks of the radio communications system and laser rangefinder as well as familiarization with on-board documentation of the flight program and the location (and list) of internal cargo Soyuz is set to deliver to ISS.
On 4 November, after being fueled with propellant and compressed gas, Soyuz MS-03 was transferred to its final test stand at the Spacecraft Assembly And Testing Facility (SC ATF).
On 9 November, engineers completed the Designers Inspection of the MS-03 and officially cleared it for encapsulation inside its payload fairing at the SC ATF.
Following encapsulation on the 9th, Soyuz MS-03 was moved to the Launch Vehicle Assembly and Testing Facility on 12 November.
The following day, MS-03 was mated to its Soyuz-FG booster, and engineers completed the rollout readiness review.
On 14 November, MS-03 was rolled by rail to Site 1/5 under cold but clear skies.
Soyuz MS-03 (call sign: Kazbek) lifted off from historic Site 1/5 at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, the same pad Yuri Gagarin used on the first human spaceflight in 1961.
The Soyuz-FG’s boosters roared to life at 02:20 local time at Baikonur on 18 November – 20:20 GMT, 15:20 EST on 17 November – lifting the Expedition 50 crew to space.
The MS-03 crew spent two days chasing down the ISS before initiating a final rendezvous and approach sequence on 19 November.
Docking via Soyuz’s automated system occurred at 21:58 GMT – 16:58 EST – on 19 November.
Following the nominal docking, hatch opening occurred around 00:35 GMT on 20 November – 19:35 EST on 19 November, at which point the MS-03 crew were welcomed aboard the ISS by Expedition 50 Commander Shane Kimbrough and Flight Engineers Sergey Ryzhikov and Andrey Borisenko.
Soyuz MS-03 represents a truly international flight – with each of Soyuz’s three seats occupied by a person from a different space organization.
MS-03 is carrying Roscosmos astronaut Oleg Viktorovich Novitskiy, European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Thomas Pesquet, and NASA astronaut – and most experienced female astronaut – Peggy A. Whitson.
Together with the three crewmembers already present on the ISS, Expedition 50 marks the 50th crewed increment of permanent human habitation of the Station – a milestone which began with the docking of Soyuz TM-31 to the infant Space Station on 2 November 2000.
What began with Expedition 1 continues today as the longest, unbroken human habitation in space – a record the ISS’s various Expeditions achieved on 23 October 2010 when it surpassed Mir’s record of 3,644 continuous days of habitation.
As of writing (17 November 2016), the ISS has been continuously inhabited for 5,860 days – or 16 years 16 days – and counting.
Oleg Viktorovich Novitskiy (Roscosmos):
Oleg Novitskiy was born on 12 October 1971 in Cherven, Minsk Voblast, Belarus, of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
Novitskiy attended the Borisoglebsk Military Pilot School before continuing on to the Kachinskoye Military Pilot School, from which he graduated in 1994 after studying command tactical aviation.
From there, he attended military school from September to December 1995 before serving as a pilot and pilot-instructor in the fighter aviation regiment of the V. Chkalov Training Center.
From December 1995 to June 2004 he served as a pilot, senior pilot, flight commander, and air squadron deputy commander at the fighter air regiment of the 1st Guard Composite Air Division of the 4th Air Army and the 4th Air Force and Air Defense Army of the North Caucasus Military Command.
After this, Novitskiy enrolled in the Yuri Gagarin Air Force Academy – from which he graduated in 2006 and subsequently served as commander of an attack air squadron.
During his active military career, he attained mastery in piloting of he Л-39 and Су-25 aircraft, earned a Class 2 military pilot designation, earned qualification as a paratrooper instructor and military diver, and accumulated – as of July 2012 – a total of 700 flying hours.
In February 2007, he was selected as a test-cosmonaut candidate and trained for basic spaceflight from February of that year to July 2009.
Following training, Novitskiy was qualified as a test-cosmonaut by the Interdepartmental Qualification Board.
From August 2009 to March 2010, Novitskiy participated in advanced ISS training courses and subsequently trained as an ISS 31/32 backup crewmember and Soyuz TMA-M Commander/ISS Flight Engineer from March 2010 to May 2012.
In May 2012, he was assigned to the Expedition 33/34 prime crew and as Commander of the Soyuz TMA-M series spacecraft.
He launched on his first spaceflight on 23 October 2012 as Commander of the Soyuz TMA-06M spacecraft. On Station, he served as Flight Engineer for Expeditions 33/34, accumulating 143 days 16 hours 15 minutes in space before returning to Earth on 16 March 2013.
Novitskiy will make his second trip to space on Soyuz MS-03.
Thomas Pesquet (ESA):
Thomas Pesquet was born on 27 February 1978 in Rouen, France, and earned a Master’s degree from the École nationale supérieure de l’aéronautique et de l’espace in Toulouse, France, in 2001.
After receiving his Master’s degree, Pesquet began work in October 2001 as a spacecraft dynamics engineer for a remote sensing mission for GMV Innovating Solutions in Spain.
From 2002 to 2004, he worked at the Centre national d’études spatiales (CNES) – the French space agency – where he served as a research engineer on space mission autonomy.
During his time with CNES, Pesquet served as the CNES representative on the Consultative Committee for Space Data Systems, where he worked on cross-support between international space agencies.
In 2004, he left CNES for Air France’s flight training program, from which he graduated in 2006 and subsequently earned an Airline Transport Pilot License – Instrument Rating.
Pesquet worked for Air France as a commercial aviation pilot from 2006 to 2009 – during which he accumulated 2,000 hours of flight time and qualified as a type-rating flight instructor on the Airbus A320 and as a Crew Resource Management instructor.
In May 2009, Pesquet’s application to ESA was accepted, and he officially joined ESA in September 2009 and completed basic astronaut training in November 2010.
In 2011, Pesquet participated in ESA’s CAVES underground course, and in 2013, he served as a member of the support crew for NASA’s SEATEST (Space Environment Analog for Testing EVA Systems and Training) II mission – an underwater mission renamed from NEEMO 17.
His first mission assignment as an astronaut was for NASA as an aquanaut for the NEEMO 18 mission.
Announced on 10 June 2014, NEEMO 18 began on 21 July 2014 and lasted nine days.
Later that same year, Pesquet was chosen by ESA as the prime crewmember for the Expedition 50/51 ESA assignment – which will be his first spaceflight.
He is a member of the French Aeronautics and Astronautics Association and of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.
At 38 years old, he is the youngest member of the European Astronaut Corps.
Dr. Peggy A. Whitson (NASA):
Peggy Whitson was born on 9 February 1960 in Mt. Ayr, Iowa, and earned a Bachelor of Science in Biology and Chemistry from Iowa Wesleyan College in 1981 before attending the biochemistry doctorate program at Rice University, from which she graduated in 1985.
During her time at Rice University, Whitson was a Robert A. Welch Predoctoral Fellow – a fellowship she continued following her graduation until October 1986.
Dr. Whitson then joined a team at NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) as a National Research Council Resident Research Associate – a posting she held from October 1986 to April 1988.
Dr. Whitson went on to become a Supervisor for the Biochemistry Research Group at KRUG International, a medical sciences contractor at the NASA Johnson Space Center, from April 1988 to September 1989.
Beginning in 1989, Dr. Whitson worked as a Research Biochemist in the Biomedical Operations and Research Branch of JSC until 1993.
From 1991 to 1992, Dr. Whitson additionally served as the Payload Element Developer for the bone cell research experiment which flew aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour on STS-47.
Moreover, from 1991 to 1993, she also served as Technical Monitor of the Biochemistry Research Laboratories in the same research branch.
Moreover, at this same time, she was also a member of the US-USSR Joint Working Group in Space Medicine and Biology.
In 1992, she was named as a project scientist for the Shuttle-Mir Program, a position she held until conclusion of the Phase 1A (STS-60, STS-63, STS-71, Mir 18, and Mir 19) portion of the program in 1995.
Dr. Wilson also held additional responsibilities from 1993 to 1996 as the Deputy Division Chief of the Medical Sciences Division at JSC – an assignment which overlapped in the final two years with her responsibilities as Co-Chair of the US-Russian Mission Science Working Group.
Dr. Whitson’s service in these capacities ended in 1996 when her application as an astronaut candidate was selected by NASA, and she began basic astronaut training in August 1996.
Dr. Whitson completed training in two years and in 1998 was assigned technical duties in the Astronaut Office Operations Planning Branch where she served as a Lead for the Crew Test Support Team in Russia until 1999.
In 2000, Dr. Whitson was assigned to her first spaceflight as a member of the Expedition 5 crew to the International Space Station and launched aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour and the STS-111 mission on 5 June 2002.
Dr. Whitson remained on the Station for six months as a Flight Engineer for Expedition 5.
During her stay aboard the Station, Dr. Whitson installed the Mobile Base System and the S1 and P1 truss segments using the Space Station Remote Manipulator System.
She performed a 4 hour 25 minute Orlan spacewalk to install micrometeoroid shielding on the Zvezda Service Module and activated and checked out the Microgravity Sciences Glovebox – a facility class payload rack.
During Expedition 5, she was named the first NASA Science Officer aboard the Station as she conducted 21 investigations into human life sciences and microgravity sciences.
Dr. Whitson left the Station on 3 December 2002 aboard the Endeavour and the STS-113 mission, successfully returning to Earth on 7 December 2002.
From launch until landing, Dr. Whitson logged 184 days 22 hours 14 minutes in space.
Subsequently, she served as Commander of the NEEMO-5 mission from 16-29 June 2003.
In November 2003, she was named Deputy Chief for the Astronaut Office, a position she held until March 2005, at which point she became Chief of the Station Operations Branch.
Dr. Whitson left this post when she was assigned as backup Commander of the Expedition 14 mission – which she trained for from November 2005 to September 2006.
Dr. Whitson was then assigned as Commander of the Expedition 16 mission and launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on 10 October 2007 on Soyuz TMA-11.
She arrived back at the Station on 12 October to become the first woman to Command the ISS.
During her 6 month tenure as Commander, Dr. Whitson oversaw the largest expansion of internal, habitable volume of the Station of any Expedition during construction of the ISS – with Shuttles Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavour delivering the Harmony connecting module, ESA’s Columbus laboratory, and the first of two modules of the JAXA Kibo lab.
Uniquely, the start of Expedition 16 coincided with the STS-120 mission of Discovery – notable as Discovery was also commanded by a woman, Pamela Melroy.
When Discovery docked to the ISS less than two weeks into Dr. Whitson’s Command, it marked the first and only time that: 1) two spacecraft, both commanded by women, were in space at the same time, and 2) that two spacecraft commanded by women performed docked operations with each other.
During the course of Expedition 16, Dr. Whitson performed five spacewalks – the fifth of which was the 100th EVA dedicated to ISS construction.
During these spacewalks, Dr. Whitson became the most experienced female spacewalker in history – which she still holds today – when she surpassed NASA astronaut Sunita Williams’ previous record.
Expedition 16 came to an end in April 2008.
During reentry and landing, the Soyuz’s Propulsion Module failed to properly separate from the Descent Module – triggering a ballistic reentry mode and exposing Dr. Whitson to roughly 8g forces as the Soyuz made a much steeper than planned dive into the atmosphere and landed hundreds of kilometers away from its intended landing site.
Safely on the ground, Dr. Whitson accumulated an additional 191 days 19 hours 8 minutes in space, bringing her cumulative total to 376 days 17 hours 49 minutes.
With this time, Dr. Whitson currently ranks 29th in terms of all space flyers for most time in space.
Moreover, Expedition 16 catapulted her to the distinction of most experienced female space flyer in history – a distinction she still holds today.
With Expedition 16 complete, in October 2009, Dr. Whitson was named Chief of the Astronaut Office, a position she held until July 2012.
During her tenure as Chief, Dr. Whitson became the first woman to hold the position, the first non-military person to hold the position, and the first non-pilot to hold the position.
In 2014, Dr. Whitson began training as a backup to Dr. Kate Rubins for the MS-01 flight to the ISS and was subsequently assigned to the MS-03 flight and as Commander for the Expedition 51 increment.
Her third spaceflight, if it lasts the full, 156-day duration, will bring her total time in space to roughly 532 days.
Moreover, when she assumed command of the ISS for Expedition 51, she will become the first woman to twice command the Station.
(Images: NASA, Roscosmos, ESA)