A new crew has successfully reached the International Space Station following the successful launch and docking of the Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft. The Expedition 68 crew will spend the next six months in low Earth orbit running science experiments and maintaining the orbital outpost, despite political tensions on the ground.
NASA astronaut Frank Rubio, along with Roscosmos astronauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin, flew aboard a Soyuz MS-22 crew ship on Wednesday. The Soyuz rocket lifted off at 9:54 a.m. ET from the Baikonur Cosmodrome launch pad in Kazakhstan against a picturesque sunset backdrop.
About three hours and 12 minutes into its flight, the capsule performed a flawless docking at the Rassvet module on the Russian side of the space station, arriving at the ISS at 1:06 p.m. ET (a few minutes ahead of schedule). The hatches between the Soyuz spacecraft and the space station opened around two hours later, with the existing crew welcoming the newcomers to their new digs.
The crew’s trip to the ISS marks Prokopyev’s second flight to space and the first flight for Rubio and Petelin. The trio will spend around six months on the orbiting complex, returning to Earth in March 2023.
The arrival of the Expedition 68 crew members marks the end of Expedition 67; one week from now, members of the pre-existing crew will depart the station. Station commander Oleg Artemyev, along with flight engineers Denis Matveev and Sergey Korsakov, will board the Soyuz crew ship to reenter Earth’s atmosphere and touch down in Kazakhstan after spending six months in low Earth orbit. European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti will take over as station commander following Artemyev’s departure, becoming the first European woman to command the ISS. A ceremony will take place on September 28 to mark the handover of the position.
Rubio is the first NASA astronaut to fly aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket since April 2021, a result of a recent seat-swap agreement. The arrangement stipulated that a U.S. astronaut will ride aboard a Soyuz capsule while a Russian cosmonaut will get to strap into a Crew Dragon for the very first time.
Today’s launch comes at an awkward time, as the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues and as President Vladimir Putin drafts up to 300,000 reservists. The war, it would seem, is not going to end anytime soon. Despite the unprovoked invasion and the resulting sanctions, the United States continues to co-operate with Russia on ISS-related matters. Given that the situation on the ground is set to get worse, it’ll be interesting to see how this relationship evolves over the coming months.