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March 21st, 2018

Soyuz Rocket Lanches U.S.-Russian Crew to ISS as U.S. Companies Compete to Again Provide Transport Spacecraft

The Soyuz MS-08 spacecraft carrying NASA astronauts Drew Feustel and Ricky Arnold, and Oleg Artemyev of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, lifts off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 1:44 p.m. EDT on March 21, 2018 (11:44 p.m. Baikonur time). The crew is scheduled to dock to the International Space Station at 3:41 p.m. March 23, 2018. Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky

A successful night launch takes three more astronauts to the International Space Station which they will call home for more than five months, while conducting more than 250 scientific experiments across many different fields ranging from Earth Science to physical Sciences and technology development. American companies have been competing to once again to provide transport to the ISS, something that Russia has been providing at a great expense since 2011.

Three crew members, including NASA astronauts Drew Feustel and Ricky Arnold, are on their way to the International Space Station after launching from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 1:44 p.m. EDT Wednesday (11:44 p.m. Baikonur time).

The Soyuz spacecraft carrying Feustal, Arnold and Oleg Artemyev of the Russian space agency Roscosmos is scheduled to dock to the space station’s Rassvet module at 3:41 p.m. Friday, March 23. Coverage of docking will begin at 3 p.m. on NASA Television and the agency’s website, followed at 5 p.m. by coverage of the opening of hatches between the spacecraft and station. The Soyuz has been the only astronaut ride available to and from the ISS since the space shuttle fleet was grounded in 2011. American companies SpaceX and Boeing are competing under multibillion-dollar NASA contracts, to once again provide the U.S. astronauts with American-made transport spacecraft. These vehicles may be ready to start crewed test flights before the end of the year, representatives of both companies have said.

The arrival of Feustel, Arnold and Artemyev will restore the station's crew complement to six. They will join Scott Tingle of NASA, Expedition 55 Commander Anton Shkaplerov of Roscosmos and Norishige Kanai of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. The crew members will spend more than five months conducting about 250 science investigations in fields such as biology, Earth science, human research, physical sciences and technology development. 

When they get there, the trio will boost the station's population to its full complement of six crewmembers. At the moment, the ISS is occupied by cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov, commander of the current Expedition 55; NASA astronaut Scott Tingle; and Norishige Kanai of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.

Expedition 55 crew members Drew Feustel of NASA (left), Oleg Artemyev of Roscosmos (center) and Ricky Arnold of NASA (right) pose for a crew portrait at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia on Feb. 21, 2018. The crew launched to the International Space Station on a Soyuz rocket March 21. Credit: Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center/Andrey Shelepin and Irina Spektor

Feustel, Arnold and Artemyev are all veteran space fliers. Arnold flew on the STS-119 mission of the space shuttle Discovery in 2009, and Feustel has experienced two shuttle jaunts, including STS-125, the final Hubble Space Telescope servicing mission that lifted off in May 2009, aboard the orbiter Atlantis.

Artemyev has been to the ISS once before, spending 5.5 months aboard the orbiting lab in 2014 as a member of expeditions 39 and 40.

Shkaplerov, Tingle and Kanai are scheduled to remain aboard the station until June 2018, while Feustel, Arnold and Artemyev are slated to return to Earth in August.

This crew continues the long-term increase in crew size on the U.S. segment from three to four, allowing NASA to maximize time dedicated to research on the space station. Highlights of upcoming investigations include: a new facility to test materials, coatings and components of other large experiments in the harsh environment of space; a study on the effects of microgravity on bone marrow and blood cells produced in bone marrow; and a newly-developed passive nutrient delivery system for the Veggie plant growth facility.

Arnold, a former educator, will continue NASA’s Year of Education on Station, an initiative to engage students and educators in human spaceflight and science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) careers.

For more than 17 years, humans have lived and worked continuously aboard the station, advancing scientific knowledge and demonstrating new technologies, making research breakthroughs not possible on Earth that will enable long-duration human and robotic exploration into deep space. A global endeavor, more than 200 people from 18 countries have visited the unique microgravity laboratory that has hosted more than 2,100 research investigations from researchers in more than 95 countries.