The Russian Federal Space Agency, Roscosmos, conducted the world’s first crew launch of 2018 this week ahead of a successful docking. The mission utilized the veteran Soyuz-FG rocket, atop which three crew members, two Americans and one Russian, departed for the International Space Station aboard the Soyuz MS-08 spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 17:44 UTC (13:44 EDT; 23:44 local time at Baikonur) Wednesday. Docking with the Station occurred on Friday after a two-day orbital rendezvous.
Soyuz MS-08 is the 137th flight of a crewed Soyuz vehicle and was the 63rd launch of the Soyuz-FG rocket since it entered service in 2001.
As the new year dawned, Soyuz MS-08 was scheduled to launch on 15 March, but the launch was slipped in late-January for unspecified reasons to 21 March. In preparation for the new launch date, the Soyuz MS-08 crew vehicle underwent vacuum chamber testing on 15 February at Baikonur.
On 4 March, the prime and back-up crews arrived at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan to begin final preparations for launch, including flight suit fit and leak checks as well as fit checks and inspections of the actual craft they are due to launch in.
This included a humorous moment when the Commander of Soyuz MS-08 gave the craft a loving hug.
Two days later, Soyuz MS-08 was successfully filled with fuel and compressed gases ahead of delivery to the spacecraft installation and testing complex, where it was installed in a slipway for further pre-launch work.
On 12 March, engineers successfully mated Soyuz MS-08 to its adapter that will allow it to attach atop the third stage of the Soyuz-FG launch vehicle.
This was followed by a successful designer’s inspection and encapsulation of Soyuz MS-08 inside its payload fairing.
After encapsulation, Soyuz MS-08 was rolled from the spacecraft processing facility to the vehicle integration and checkout facility on 16 March. There, it was first mated to the Soyuz-FG rocket’s third stage before the entire third stage and spacecraft were then mated to the core stage of the Soyuz-FG.
General assembly of the entire Soyuz MS-08 spacecraft and its Soyuz-FG launcher was completed on 17 March with the installation of the emergency rescue system to the top of the rocket – the system that will pull the crew to safety in the event of a mishap during the count or first few minutes of launch.
The system has never been needed on the Soyuz-FG rocket, but it was used on 26 September 1983 during the Soyuz T-10-1 launch. In the final seconds of that count, the Soyuz T rocket caught fire on the launch pad, and the launch escape system activated and pulled the crew away from the rocket just two seconds before the vehicle exploded.
The incident is the only time in spaceflight history that a launch abort system has been used with a crew onboard the spacecraft.
Fitted with its emergency rescue system and having completed assembly, the entire Soyuz-FG rocket with Soyuz MS-08 attached was rolled by rail to the launch pad by engineers on Monday, 19 March ahead of a planned 21 March launch.
After reaching the pad, the Soyuz-FG rocket and MS-08 vehicle were erected on site № 1 “Gagarin Start” – the same launch pad Yuri Gagarin launched from on the first human spaceflight on 12 April 1961, almost exactly 57 years ago.
With the countdown going to plan, the Soyuz-FG rocket lifted off with the MS-08 spacecraft and three new crewmembers for the International Space Station at 17:44:25 UTC (23:44:25 local time at Baikonur; 13:44:25 EDT in the United States) on Wednesday, 21 March 2018 – the exact second Earth’s rotation brings the “Gagarin Start” launch pad at Baikonur into the center of the orbital plane of the ISS.
After an 8 minute 45 second ride to orbit, Soyuz MS-08 separated from the Soyuz-FG third stage and entered orbit, beginning a two-day orbital chase with the Station for docking on Friday.
While the Soyuz MS series of vehicles has the ability to perform rapid sequence rendezvous and docking with the ISS, reaching the orbital outpost after just two or four orbits of Earth, a series of considerations prevents that option from being executed on this mission.
Those considerations include the delay of launch from 15 March to 21 March, the need for the Soyuz MS-06 crew landing in Kazakhstan last month to occur during daylight, and the International Space Station’s visiting vehicle schedule and crew sleep cycles in the coming weeks.
During its two-day orbital chase, Soyuz MS-08 performed a series of course correction burns and maneuvers to properly align itself with the Station. A detailed timeline of these events with approximate times can be seen in the image below.
With rendezvous going to plan, Soyuz MS-08 performed an automated docking with the International Space Station, linking up with the orbital outpost at 19:41 UTC (15:41 EDT or 22:41 local time in Moscow at Russian Mission Control) on Friday, 23 March.
Roughly 1 hour 20 minutes later, hatches between the two vehicles were opened, and the three crewmembers of Soyuz MS-08 officially joined the crew of the International Space Station for the already-in-progress Expedition 55 increment.
As is normal procedure with crew rotation flights to the ISS, Soyuz MS-08 will transport three new crewmembers up to the international outpost, this time carrying one Russian cosmonaut and two American astronauts. The three-member crew is an all veteran slate of spacefliers, with two of the crew having participated in one spaceflight and the third having participated in two.
The crew is led by Soyuz Commander and Roscosmos cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev, who is joined by two NASA astronauts: Dr. Andrew Feustel and Rick Arnold. As is tradition for Soyuz crew missions, the Soyuz Commander chose a call sign for the vehicle. For MS-08, Commander Artemyev chose the callsign “Hawaii”.
Oleg Germanovich Artemyev:
Oleg Germanovich Artemyev was born 28 December 1970 in the city of Riga, Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic (SRR) – now the Republic of Latvia. At the age of 19, he graduated from the Tallinn Polytechnical School in 1990 and immediately entered service with the Soviet Army in Vilnius, Lithuania – were he served a one-year term.
After his military service, Artemyev studied low temperature technology and physics at the Bauman Moscow State Technical University, graduating in 1998. Immediately thereafter, he began work at RKK Energia, developing testing procedures for Extra Vehicular Activity equipment in neutral buoyancy at the hydrodynamics laboratory, Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center.
During this time, he was also a member of the pre-launch processing team for the Zvezda Service Module of the International Space Station – the third module of the Station to be launched and the module which provides most of the Station’s life support services and serves as the backbone of the Russian Operating Segment (ROS).
In 2000, Artemyev received permission to begin special training related to spaceflight operation – training that, in part, led to his selection as part of the 15th RKK Energia cosmonaut group on 29 May 2003. As part of his training, Artemyev undertook Soyuz and ISS specific training, including survival training both in the wilderness and in the water between 2006 and 2007.
In 2007, his ground-based cosmonaut duties shifted from short-term spaceflight training to long-term objectives when he participated in a 15-day Mars training program, and again in 2009 when he participated in a 105-day Mars isolation program – both of which served as precursors to the MARS-500 program.
Between 2010 and 2011, he was assigned to work at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan as a descent module operator for the Soyuz-TMA-01M mission. During that same period, he processed the Soyuz TMA-21 spacecraft for launch in 2011.
Artemyev was then assigned to his first spaceflight as a member of the Expedition 39 and 40 long-duration crews aboard the International Space Station. After nearly two years of dedicated training, Artemyev launched on his first mission to space on 25 March 2014 aboard Soyuz TMA-12M – flying as Flight Engineer 1 aboard the Soyuz.
During the expedited 4-orbit, 6hr rendezvous with the ISS, Soyuz TMA-12M was unable to perform its third course correction burn, and docking had to be rescheduled following a standard 2-day orbital chase with the Station. Once aboard ISS, Artemyev joined the Expedition 39 increment, serving as Flight Engineer 4. When Expedition 40 began two months later, he moved up in crew member order to Flight Engineer 2 for the remainder of his stay.
After five and a half months onboard the Station, Artemyev and his Soyuz TMA-12M counterparts undocked from the ISS for return to Earth. Soyuz TMA-12M initiated its deorbit burn on 11 September and safely parachuted to a landing in the Kazakh Steppe region.
With his first spaceflight, Artemyev achieved 169 days 5 hours and 6 minutes in space. For his second flight, Artemyev will serve as Commander of Soyuz MS-08. Once aboard the Station, he will join Expedition 55, serving once again as Flight Engineer 4 before transferring to Expedition 56 for which he will serve as Flight Engineer 1.
Dr. Andrew J. Feustel:
Andrew Jay “Drew” Feustel was born 25 August 1965 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, moving with his family at a young age and growing up in Lake Orion, Michigan. He earned an Associate of Science degree from Oakland Community College in 1985, going on to attend Purdue University where he earned both a Bachelor of Science in Solid Earth Sciences in 1989 and a Masters of Science in Geophysics in 1991.
He then attended a doctoral program in Ontario, Canada, at Queen’s University, earning his PhD in Geological Sciences in 1995. Dr. Feustel then worked as a geophysicist for the Engineering Seismology Group in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, where he installed and operated microseismic monitoring equipment in mines throughout eastern Canada and the United States.
In 1997, he began work for Exxon Mobil Exploration Company in Houston, Texas, as an exploration geophysicists where he designed and provided operational oversight of land, marine, and borehole seismic programs worldwide.
During his work with Exxon Mobil, Dr. Feustel was selected as an astronaut candidate by NASA in July 2000. He reported to the Johnson Space Center in August 2000 for astronaut candidate training. He successfully passed all evaluations and was accepted into the astronaut corps in 2002 and was assigned technical duties in the Astronaut Office Space Shuttle and Space Station branches.
From 22-28 July 2006, Dr. Feustel participated in the NEEMO 10 underwater mission off Key Largo, Florida. Shortly after completion of this assignment, he was assigned to his first spaceflight: the all-important scientific servicing mission to the Hubble Space Telescope, STS-125.
For over two and a half years, Dr. Feustel trained with his six fellow crewmembers for the flight, which was originally slated to occur in October 2008 but was delayed to May 2009 when a science data handling unit aboard Hubble malfunctioned in September 2008 and NASA decided to delay the mission in order to manifest a replacement unit on STS-125.
The Hubble servicing flight launched on 11 May 2009, with Atlantis and her seven person crew undertaking an ambitious mission which saw five back-to-back Extra Vehicular Activities (EVAs – or spacewalks) to repair and upgrade the telescope.
Dr. Feustel performed three of those five spacewalks, accumulating a total EVA time of 20 hours 38 minutes. STS-125 and Atlantis landed safely at Edwards Air Force Base, California, on 24 May 2009 after 12 days 21 hours 37 minutes 9 seconds in space.
Barely two months after his return from STS-125, Dr. Feustel received his second spaceflight assignment, with NASA selecting him to fly the STS-134 mission of the Space Shuttle Endeavour – Endeavour’s final flight and what would ultimately be the final construction flight of the Space Shuttle to the International Space Station.
After manifest realignments, mission order swaps, and a three-week delay due to a mechanical failure on the first launch attempt, Dr. Feustel began his second trip to space when Shuttle Endeavour lifted off on her final voyage on 16 May 2011.
During STS-134’s docked operations with the ISS, Dr. Feustel performed three spacewalks, participating in installation of a series of external experiments outside the Station, lubrication of the Station’s Solar Alpha Rotary Joints and portions of the Canadian Dextre robot as well as installation of data cables to provide redundant power supply to the Russian segment.
After 15 days 17 hours 38 minutes 51 seconds in space, Endeavour, with Dr. Feustel aboard, landed at the Kennedy Space Center to conclude her final mission on 1 June 2011 – bringing Dr. Feustel’s cumulative time in space to 23 days 15 hours 17 minutes.
When he arrives aboard the Station later this week, he will join Expedition 55 as Flight Engineer 3, becoming Commander of the Station for Expedition 56 in April.
Richard Robert “Ricky” Arnold II:
Arnold was born 26 November 1963 in Cheverly, Maryland. In 1985, he earned a Bachelor of Science in accounting from Frostburg State University in Maryland, going on to complete teacher certification at the same university in 1988.
Before completing his teacher certification, Arnold worked at the United States Naval Academy as an Oceanographic technician, eventually accepting a position as a science teacher at John Hanson Middle School in Waldorf, Maryland.
Arnold then earned a Master’s in Marine, Estuarine, and Environmental Sciences at the University of Maryland in 1992. The following year, he joined the faculty at the Casablanca American School in Casablanca, Morocco, where he taught college preparatory biology and marine environmental science before moving in 1996 to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to teach middle and high school science and serve as department chair at the American International School.
In 2001, Arnold accepted a position with International School Services to teach middle school mathematics and science in West Papua, Indonesia. Two years later, he accepted a similar position with the American International School of Bucharest, in Bucharest, Romania.
In 2004, he was accepted as an Educator Mission Specialist astronaut by NASA, completing astronaut candidate training in February 2006. His first non-astronaut office assignment was as a mission specialist on the joint NASA-NOAA NEEMO 13 mission, where he worked aboard the underwater Aquarius Habitat off the coast of Florida during a 10-day mission in August 2007 that simulated operations for a lunar outpost mission.
After completion of NEEMO 13, Arnold was assigned to his first spaceflight as a mission specialist for the STS-119 flight of Shuttle Discovery in support of construction and outfitting of the International Space Station.
Arnold’s first spaceflight began on 15 March 2009 when Discovery launched from the Kennedy Space Center. During the course of the mission, Arnold participated in the delivery and installation of the final set of power generating solar arrays to the Station as well as participated in two EVAs totaling 12 hours 34 minutes.
Arnold’s first spaceflight lasted 202 orbits of Earth and 5.3 million miles before ending back at the Kennedy Space Center after 12 days 19 hours 29 minutes. As part of Expeditions 55 and 56, Arnold will serve as Flight Engineer 5 and Flight Engineer 3, respectively.