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Russia Launches Fresh Crew To ISS On Fast-track Journey

Two cosmonauts and a NASA astronaut blasted off on a high-speed journey to the International Space Station Wednesday, in the first such launch aboard a Russian capsule since SpaceX’s game-changing debut manned flight from US soil.

Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov of Roscosmos and NASA’s Kathleen Rubins launched from the Russian-operated Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 0545 GMT on Wednesday.

A NASA TV commentator said everything was normal, citing communications between Russian mission control and the crew, while Roscosmos said the capsule had successfully gone into orbit.

The three-member crew launched from the Russian-operated Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan The three-member crew launched from the Russian-operated Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan Photo: Russian Space Agency Roscosmos / Handout

Their journey will be the first manned flight to the ISS to last just over three hours before docking — a new fast-track profile that takes half the time of standard trips to the orbital lab.

Only an unmanned Progress cargo space ship has previously used this profile, which requires just two orbits before docking.

The launch is sandwiched between two SpaceX launches — the first manned spaceflights to the ISS under NASA’s aegis since 2011.

The International Space Station crew of NASA astronaut Kate Rubins and Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov The International Space Station crew of NASA astronaut Kate Rubins and Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov Photo: Russian Space Agency Roscosmos / Handout

Before May 30, when US astronauts Robert Behnken and Doug Hurley arrived at the ISS, Russia and Baikonur had enjoyed a lucrative monopoly on manned missions to the ISS.

The NASA duo returned safely on August 2 and a fresh SpaceX launch, this time anticipating a full-length half-year mission at the space station, is expected next month.

The emergence of private players SpaceX and Boeing — part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program — has fuelled talk of a new “space race” between a number of countries.

But the men and women that fly to the space station have played down talk of competition and focused instead on space travel’s ability to bring rival nations together for a common cause.

Speaking at a pre-launch press conference on Tuesday, Rubins did not directly reference the SpaceX flight when asked how she felt to be on board during a new era in spaceflight.

“We don’t get to choose our launch date or what occurs on station but certainly I feel incredibly lucky to be on station when…these events are happening,” said the American astronaut, who was celebrating her 42nd birthday on Wednesday.

The ISS, which has been permanently occupied since 2000 has been a rare example of cooperation between Moscow and Washington, but the project may be entering its final decade.

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3 Astronauts Launching To ISS This Week, 3 Others Coming Home

KEY POINTS

  • 3 astronauts are launching to the ISS from Kazakhstan this week
  • They will only have a week together with the current residents of the ISS 
  • In November, the ISS will celebrate the 20th year of continuous human presence aboard the space lab

Three astronauts are set to launch to the International Space Station (ISS) this week to join the three astronauts currently aboard the orbiting laboratory. But their time together will be short-lived because the three current residents are already set to come home next week.

NASA astronaut Kate Rubins and Roscosmos cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov are scheduled to launch aboard a Soyuz MS-17 spacecraft Wednesday. The three will launch from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan and are expected to arrive and dock to the ISS just hours later around 4:52 a.m EDT.

Live coverage of the 1:45 a.m. launch will be available on NASA Television beginning an hour prior at 12:45 a.m EDT. The spacecraft docking to the ISS will also be available live starting at 4 a.m EDT.

Once at the ISS, Rubins, Ryzhikov and Kud-Sverchkov will join Expedition 63 members Chris Cassidy, Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner, who have been at the ISS for about six months. However, the six will only be together for a week because Cassidy, Ivanishin and Vagner are already scheduled to return back to on Oct. 21.

But before they leave, there will be a Change of Command Ceremony on Oct. 20, where Rubins, Ryzhikov and Kud-Sverchov will become Expedition 64, with Ryzhikov in command. The ceremony will also be featured live on NASA Television starting 4:15 p.m EDT.

Those who would like to watch NASA live streams can do so from various platforms in televisions, mobile devices or computers. This includes NASA’s official YouTube channel, Twitter and Facebook accounts. NASA TV is also available through the NASA app for both iOS and Android or television apps including Roku, Hulu and Apple TV.

Aboard the ISS, Expedition 64 crew members will perform scientific experiments and, Rubins will even vote from space for the second time.

On Nov. 2, the ISS will celebrate the 20th year of continuous human presence aboard the orbiting space station. As of May 2020, the ISS has hosted 240 people from 19 countries as well as thousands of completed and ongoing scientific investigations, NASA notes.

There have also been 231 spacewalks since December 1998, including the ones for construction and upgrades, while several astronauts have also set spaceflight records aboard the ISS.

This includes NASA astronaut Christina Koch who holds the record for the longest single spaceflight by a woman and was also part of the world’s first all-female spacewalk, which she conducted with NASA astronaut Jessica Meir.

The Earth, photographed by astronaut Nick Hague from the International Space Station on October 2, 2019 The Earth, photographed by astronaut Nick Hague from the International Space Station on October 2, 2019 Photo: NASA / Nick HAGUE

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Camera Designed by Felix & Paul Studios and TIME Arrives at ISS to Capture First-Ever Virtual Reality Spacewalk

It’s entirely possible you missed it, but on Oct. 2 at 9:16 PM ET, you lifted off for the International Space Station. Just over two days later, you docked successfully—and it’s a good thing you did. You’ve got a spacewalk planned for later this year.

O.K., technically speaking, you didn’t go anywhere at all, and unless you’re actually a highly-trained astronaut, you certainly shouldn’t be planning for a real-deal spacewalk—or extravehicular activity (EVA)—any time soon. But you could very much share in the experience when actual ISS crew members venture outside of the station for one of the most exciting and dangerous experiences an astronaut can have.

That’s because something special was included among the ISS-bound cargo on the uncrewed Cygnus supply vehicle that took off from Wallops Island, Va. earlier this week: the first-ever 3D, virtual reality camera designed to operate in the vacuum of space. It’s the product of a partnership between the Montreal-based Felix & Paul Studios (an Emmy Award-winning creator of immersive entertainment experiences), TIME Studios (TIME’s Emmy Award-winning television and film division) and Nanoracks (the leading provider of commercial space access).

This photograph was taken inside the mobile clean room attached to Northrop Grumman's Antares rocket as it rests atop Pad 0A at NASA's Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops, Island, Va. on Sept. 28, 2020. Mechanical Technician Stephen Busch, left, and Jennie Wang, Lead Integration and Test Mechanical Engineer for Northrop Grumman, load the cargo bag containing the Space Camera through the hatch of the Cygnus Pressurized Cargo Module. The vehicle successfully docked with the International Space Station on October 5. <span class="copyright">Philip Andrews—for TIME</span>
This photograph was taken inside the mobile clean room attached to Northrop Grumman’s Antares rocket as it rests atop Pad 0A at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility in Wallops, Island, Va. on Sept. 28, 2020. Mechanical Technician Stephen Busch, left, and Jennie Wang, Lead Integration and Test Mechanical Engineer for Northrop Grumman, load the cargo bag containing the Space Camera through the hatch of the Cygnus Pressurized Cargo Module. The vehicle successfully docked with the International Space Station on October 5. Philip Andrews—for TIME

The new camera is not the first one TIME, Felix & Paul and Nanoracks have sent to the ISS. In 2016, TIME and Felix & Paul were independently exploring the possibility of such a project, and ultimately decided to collaborate rather than compete. The decision bore fruit when, just two years later when we launched a camera built to operate inside the ISS. It’s been shooting scenes of station life for TIME’s The ISS Experience, set for release on Oct. 22 for virtual reality headsets via the Oculus Store. The episodes will also be available later in the fall in select domes and planetariums around the country, and in 360° mobile format through 5G-enabled wireless carriers.

Designing a multi-lens camera that could shoot in 3D and VR and function in the microgravity of low-Earth orbit was challenge enough. Designing one that can function in the extreme environment outside the ship—where temperatures fluctuate from 121º C (250º F) to -156º C (-250º F), and where 16 sunrises and sunsets a day can produce extreme flaring on the camera’s lenses—was an order of magnitude harder.

The camera was hardened by Nanoracks to withstand not only the temperature variations and the solar flaring, but also ultraviolet radiation, charged particle (ionizing) radiation, plasma, surface charging and arcing, and impacts from micrometeoroids and orbital debris. “This may well be one of the most