The Soyuz crew docks at the space station after a two-day rendezvous

By | March 25, 2024

Two days after launch, a Russian Soyuz crew ferry overtook the International Space Station on Monday and took off for a perfect dock, with two short-term crew members and a NASA astronaut beginning a six-month stay in orbit.

With Soyuz MS-25/71S commander Oleg Novitskiy, guest pilot in Belarus Marina Vasilevskaya and NASA veteran Tracy Dyson monitoring the automated approach, the spacecraft slid in from below and docked with the Earth-facing Prichal module at 11:03 a.m. EDT.

The Soyuz spacecraft MS-25/71S will fly over Croatia on Monday for its final approach to the International Space Station.  On board: experienced cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy, Belarusian guest pilot Marina Vasilevskaya and NASA astronaut Tracy Dyson.  /Credit: NASA TV

The Soyuz spacecraft MS-25/71S will fly over Croatia on Monday for its final approach to the International Space Station. On board: experienced cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy, Belarusian guest pilot Marina Vasilevskaya and NASA astronaut Tracy Dyson. /Credit: NASA TV

After leak checks to verify an airtight structural seal, the hatches were opened and the Soyuz crew floated into the station, greeted by ISS Commander Oleg Kononenko, cosmonauts Nikolaj Chub And Alexander Grebenkinalong with NASA astronauts Loral O’Hara, Matthew Dominick, Michael Barratt and Jeanette Eps.

Vasilevskaya (blue flight suit left) waves at a camera moments after flying into the International Space Station.  Dyson floats next to her at the top left, with Jeanette Epps at the bottom left.  /Credit: NASA TVVasilevskaya (blue flight suit left) waves at a camera moments after flying into the International Space Station.  Dyson floats next to her at the top left, with Jeanette Epps at the bottom left.  /Credit: NASA TV

Vasilevskaya (blue flight suit left) waves at a camera moments after flying into the International Space Station. Dyson floats next to her at the top left, with Jeanette Epps at the bottom left. /Credit: NASA TV

“Marina, you have opened the door to Belarus to be in space,” the Russian mission control said from Moscow. “So a great and safe mission. Enjoy your work and your free time. We are so proud of you. The entire people of Belarus (are) proud of you.”

Smiling broadly, Vasilevskaya said through an interpreter, “I am so happy that Belarus has reached the International Space Station safe and sound.”

“It took us two days, but we are in good spirits and I am super happy that it turned out this way. I enjoyed all aspects of it. … We are so happy that you support us. It is a great pleasure for us and gives us strength.”

NASA’s mission control team congratulated Novitskiy on returning safely “to your second home. We are happy to see you back on station.”

“Tracy, it’s so great to see your smiling face back on the ISS,” said Costa Mavrides, NASA’s spacecraft communicator. “Everyone here in Houston, including your family and friends in the viewing room, is beaming with pride at the screen.”

The station's combined 10-person crew gathered for a brief video call with Russia's mission control center near Moscow.  Back row (left to right): Nikolai Chub, Alexander Grebenkin, Mike Barratt, Oleg Kononenko, Matthew Dominick, Loral O'Hara.  Front row (left to right): Tracy Dyson, Oleg Novitskiy, Marina Vasilevskaya, Jeanette Epps.  /Credit: NASA TVThe station's combined 10-person crew gathered for a brief video call with Russia's mission control center near Moscow.  Back row (left to right): Nikolai Chub, Alexander Grebenkin, Mike Barratt, Oleg Kononenko, Matthew Dominick, Loral O'Hara.  Front row (left to right): Tracy Dyson, Oleg Novitskiy, Marina Vasilevskaya, Jeanette Epps.  /Credit: NASA TV

Kononenko, Chub and O’Hara were launched last September aboard the Soyuz MS-24/70S ferry ship as Dominick, Barratt, Epps and Grebenkin arrived earlier this month aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon.

Dyson replaces O’Hara, who will return to Earth on April 6 along with Novitskiy and Vasilevskaya aboard the older MS-24/70S spacecraft that carried her into orbit last year. Dyson will return home with Kononenko and Chub next September using the MS-25/71S spacecraft supplied by Novitskiy.

The Soyuz change was necessary because Kononenko and Chub are halfway through a year-long stay aboard the station, and the Russian crew ships are not certified for flights longer than six months.

After Novitskiy, Vasilevskaya and O’Hara depart, the station’s NASA aviators will continue ongoing research and prepare for the arrival of Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft in early May, the first piloted flight of a NASA-sponsored alternative to SpaceX’s Crew Dragon. .

After two unmanned test flights and extensive work to correct software glitches and unexpected problems with corroded propulsion system valves, NASA and Boeing officials say the spacecraft is finally ready to ferry astronauts to and from the station.

An artist's impression of Boeing's Starliner during its final approach to the International Space Station.  The first piloted flight of a Starliner is scheduled for early May.  /Credit: NASAAn artist's impression of Boeing's Starliner during its final approach to the International Space Station.  The first piloted flight of a Starliner is scheduled for early May.  /Credit: NASA

An artist’s impression of Boeing’s Starliner during its final approach to the International Space Station. The first piloted flight of a Starliner is scheduled for early May. /Credit: NASA

For the upcoming “crew flight test,” astronauts Barry “Butch” Wilmore and Sunita Williams will put the ship’s automated and manual control systems to the test during the journey to and from the station, spending approximately 10 days aboard the outpost Spending time.

If the flight goes well, the Starliner will be certified for use in future ISS crew rotation missions, alternating with SpaceX’s Crew Dragon and giving NASA redundancy when it comes to launching astronauts to and from the space station.

“Today, all of our Crew Dragons (SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets) are launching,” said space station program manager Dana Weigel. “For example, if there was a problem with the F9 and we had to stop for a while… if we had another vehicle we could keep flying.”

And that would help ensure a permanent American presence aboard the space station.

“So that’s why it’s so important for us to have that ongoing capacity when we’re talking about multiple providers,” Weigel said.

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