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 forestall the novel coronavirus from making its approach to area.
The three folks 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 an eye fixed damage. For Cassidy and Ivanishin, this will likely 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.
Closing preparations for a visit to the area station from Russia normally start in Star Metropolis — a small city simply outdoors 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 area 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 area.
Nonetheless, quarantine procedures accelerated barely whereas the crews had been nonetheless in Star Metropolis. Across the time of Cassidy’s arrival firstly of March, stricter journey restrictions and social distancing measures had been enacted everywhere in the world to forestall the unfold of COVID-19.
“Had I been in regular quarantine, I in all probability might have gone out to some eating places and left the fast parameters of the Star Metropolis space and simply been good about the place we went,” Cassidy mentioned throughout a spherical of press interviews on March 19th. “However not this time. We’ve been form of remoted to our cottages and simply the important place to go to get meals.”
Pavel Vlasov, head of the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Coaching Middle (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 staff have been following the Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention’s suggestions for controlling infections forward of quarantine, “equivalent to cleansing of surfaces, social distancing, emphasizing hand hygiene, encouraging NASA group members who’re sick to remain residence and limiting contact with crew members,” in response to a NASA spokesperson. In the meantime, Cassidy and his crewmates have stayed comparatively remoted of their resort, prepping for the mission, exercising, and even enjoying ping-pong. “Paradoxically, the timing of our getting into the strict quarantine protocol considerably magically lined up with the world caving in, by way of quarantine protocol,” Cassidy mentioned.
However come launch day, the sights and sounds main as much as the mission will likely be a lot quieter than normal. Roscosmos has banned all media from protecting the launch in particular person, and there will likely be fewer folks on website to cheer the astronauts as they head to the rocket. “Usually as you come strolling out of the resort… there’s music enjoying and there’s crowds of individuals lining the walkway as we proceed from the resort to the buses, and it’s very, very motivating. It’s tremendous thrilling,” Cassidy mentioned. However these celebrations will likely be absent this time round. “It’ll be utterly quiet. There gained’t be anyone there. We’ll simply form of stroll out. Perhaps 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 buddies could be on the launch as a result of journey restrictions. His spouse was in a position to be with him whereas in Star Metropolis, and he or she had deliberate to attend the launch. However after Russia restricted overseas journey on March 16th, her itinerary modified. Finally, she went residence when he headed to Baikonur Cosmodrome. “We thought we’d say goodbye on launch day,” Cassidy mentioned.
Regardless of every part, Cassidy is feeling good forward of launch. He even shared a rap his buddy made on Instagram about methods to keep at residence to struggle COVID-19. He hopes that all the additional precautions had been sufficient to forestall COVID-19’s unfold to area. “I actually haven’t been round anyone else, so it’d be actually, actually unusual if I did contract one thing,” Cassidy mentioned 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 response to plan, this crew will possible be an viewers to this summer season’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 Might, carrying NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken to the area station. However whereas there’s loads to look ahead to in area, Cassidy mentioned his thoughts gained’t stray removed from what’s occurring on the Earth beneath.
“I’ll have a full plate and my thoughts will likely be engaged, however I’m nonetheless going to be speaking, speaking, emailing with my household and family members and buddies,” Cassidy mentioned. “I actually am not going to be disengaged from it considering it’s not my downside. It’s actually my downside, as a result of my household resides it and my buddies 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.