Three-man Space Crew Set for Launch as Earth Battles COVID-19 Pandemic

James Marshall
April 9, 2020

A USA astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts are set to blast off for the International Space Station (ISS) from the Russian-operated Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

A Soyuz-2.1a rocket lifted off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 4:05 a.m.

The Soyuz crew was scheduled to dock with the station's Zvezda service module at 10:16 a.m. EDT.

SpaceX has been resupplying the International Space Station (ISS) since it began flying cargo missions on behalf of NASA in 2012.

This Soyuz mission faced some unusual challenges. It's highly unlikely that the system will actually be used, but safety is the name of the game in human spaceflight, and so NASA and SpaceX conducted a full demonstration with crew and support staff at Kennedy Space Center in Florida to prove that everything works as intended.

This time, however, their isolation has been "even more thorough", said Ivanishin, after the crew opted out of visits to sites in Moscow during their training an hour outside the city.

"Of course, it was a surprise", Ivanishin, speaking through an interpreter, said in a prelaunch interview broadcast on NASA TV.

Ivanishin and Vagner were originally assigned to the Soyuz MS-16 backup crew, until an injury temporarily grounded cosmonaut Nikolai Tikhonov and Roscosmos made a decision to replace both him and his crewmate, Andrei Babkin, in February.

A second issue is the ongoing coronavirus pandemic that has led to travel restrictions and stay-at-home orders in countries around the world.

Commander Anatoly Ivanishin also noted that extra measures have been taken to keep the crew healthy and safe before launch, adding that none of the crew has had any guests - no family or friends.

"We've been going through a painful, personal separation that's now unfortunately in the media", McClain said. "I'm grateful to the entire NASA and Roscosmos teams for their dedication to making this launch a success".

For the next week, Cassidy, Ivanishin and Vagner will serve aboard the station with Expedition 62 crew members Oleg Skripochka of Roscosmosand NASA astronauts Andrew Morgan and Jessica Meir. Those three will return to Earth on the Soyuz MS-15 spacecraft April 17.

Next up for SpaceX is Demo-2, the first ever crewed flight of a Dragon to the ISS, which is now planned for mid-to-late May. Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley could remain on the station until as late as August in order to provide additional crew time for maintenance and science work.

"Lt. Col. Anne McClain has an accomplished military career, flew combat mission in Iraq and is one of NASA's top astronauts", NASA said.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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