Within the wee hours of the morning on April ninth, three astronauts are set to launch on a Russian Soyuz rocket from Kazakhstan and journey to the Worldwide House Station, the place they’ll be a part of three crew members already residing and dealing in orbit. As a result of this flight is launching throughout a pandemic, tighter restrictions and protocols are in place to stop the novel coronavirus from making its technique to house.
The three individuals headed to orbit tomorrow embody NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and Russian cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner. Ivanishin and Vagner are last-minute replacements to the flight after one of many authentic cosmonauts assigned to the mission suffered a watch harm. For Cassidy and Ivanishin, this shall be their third journey to orbit, whereas it is going to be the primary for Vagner. The crew will keep on the ISS for a complete of six months.
Last preparations for a visit to the house station from Russia normally start in Star Metropolis — a small city simply exterior of Moscow. After a quick keep, the crew then heads to Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, the place their rocket launches, and enters a two-week quarantine interval. Even earlier than the pandemic, NASA and Russia’s state house company, Roscosmos, required crews to enter a two-week quarantine forward of their launch date, to make sure the vacationers don’t inadvertently carry a nasty bug to house.
Nonetheless, quarantine procedures accelerated barely whereas the crews had been nonetheless in Star Metropolis. Across the time of Cassidy’s arrival at the start of March, stricter journey restrictions and social distancing measures had been enacted all around the world to stop the unfold of COVID-19.
“Had I been in regular quarantine, I in all probability may have gone out to some eating places and left the fast parameters of the Star Metropolis space and simply been sensible about the place we went,” Cassidy stated throughout a spherical of press interviews on March 19th. “However not this time. We’ve been type of remoted to our cottages and simply the important place to go to get meals.”
Pavel Vlasov, head of the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Coaching Heart (GCTC) in Star Metropolis, confirmed that the crews began quarantining sooner than normal. “They don’t go on any journeys even the normal like visiting the Kremlin wall and [Sergei] Korolev’s home earlier than setting off to Baikonur,” Vlasov said in a statement on the Roscosmos website.
Cassidy has since traveled to Baikonur Cosmodrome and gone by the common quarantine procedures. NASA maintains that its workers have been following the Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention’s suggestions for controlling infections forward of quarantine, “akin to cleansing of surfaces, social distancing, emphasizing hand hygiene, encouraging NASA workforce members who’re sick to remain house and limiting contact with crew members,” in accordance with a NASA spokesperson. In the meantime, Cassidy and his crewmates have stayed comparatively remoted of their lodge, prepping for the mission, exercising, and even enjoying ping-pong. “Paradoxically, the timing of our coming into the strict quarantine protocol considerably magically lined up with the world caving in, when it comes to quarantine protocol,” Cassidy stated.
However come launch day, the sights and sounds main as much as the mission shall be a lot quieter than normal. Roscosmos has banned all media from protecting the launch in particular person, and there shall be fewer individuals on website to cheer the astronauts as they head to the rocket. “Usually as you come strolling out of the lodge… there’s music enjoying and there’s crowds of individuals lining the walkway as we proceed from the lodge to the buses, and it’s very, very motivating. It’s tremendous thrilling,” Cassidy stated. However these celebrations shall be absent this time round. “It’ll be fully quiet. There received’t be anyone there. We’ll simply form of stroll out. Possibly we’ll nonetheless play the music and hearth the three of us up ourselves. However who is aware of?”
None of Cassidy’s household or mates could be on the launch on account of journey restrictions. His spouse was capable of be with him whereas in Star Metropolis, and she or he had deliberate to attend the launch. However after Russia restricted international journey on March 16th, her itinerary modified. In the end, she went house when he headed to Baikonur Cosmodrome. “We thought we’d say goodbye on launch day,” Cassidy stated.
Regardless of all the pieces, Cassidy is feeling good forward of launch. He even shared a rap his pal made on Instagram about find out how to keep at house to struggle COVID-19. He hopes that all the additional precautions had been sufficient to stop COVID-19’s unfold to house. “I actually haven’t been round anyone else, so it’d be actually, actually unusual if I did contract one thing,” Cassidy stated on March 19th. “Something can occur between now and April ninth, however we’re being actually tremendous vigilant in order that I can stay wholesome to get to the station.”
Whereas on board the ISS, the crew will conduct science experiments and possibly even go on some spacewalks down the road. If all goes in accordance with plan, this crew will possible be an viewers to this summer time’s most anticipated spaceflight occasion: the arrival of the primary crewed flight of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon. The automobile, developed as a part of NASA’s Business Crew Program, is slated to take off this Could, carrying NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken to the house station. However whereas there’s a lot to stay up for in house, Cassidy stated his thoughts received’t stray removed from what’s occurring on the Earth under.
“I’ll have a full plate and my thoughts shall be engaged, however I’m nonetheless going to be speaking, speaking, emailing with my household and family members and mates,” Cassidy stated. “I actually am not going to be disengaged from it pondering it’s not my drawback. It’s actually my drawback, as a result of my household resides it and my mates and my co-workers live it in actual time.”
Takeoff for the mission is slated for 4:05AM ET on April ninth. After launch, the crew will make 4 orbits round Earth and arrive on the Worldwide House Station six hours later. NASA’s protection of the launch will start at 3AM ET, and protection of docking will start at 9:30AM ET.