A Russian capsule took off from Kazakhstan with crew for the space station.
Since the American Space Shuttle program was shut down, the US and Russian space agencies have both been sharing the Russian Soyuz capsules and taking off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. It’s rather endearing that after a both nations were embroiled in a space race in the 20th century, and amidst tension between the countries which is arguably as bad as it has ever been, there’s still a sense of cooperation in at least this one area. US astronaut Jack Fischer and Russian cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin blasted off from the Russian-leased launch facility at just past 7 am GMT yesterday. This is Yurchikhin’s fifth flight. It took only nine minutes to reach orbit, as illustrated when a stuffed dog on a string in the capsule began to float around freely.
From there, it was a six hour journey to reach the space station. The process of getting from Earth to the ISS involves several distinct and important steps. Initially, the capsule needs to reach a stable orbit. This involves acquiring enough horizontal speed (roughly 7.5 km/s) that the forward motion of the capsule results in the Earth curving away at the same rate as the capsule is falling. That way, it perpetually hurdles towards the ground without ever reaching it. Next, thrust must applied at distinct points, nodes, to pivot the orbit so that it is on the same plane as the space station. Finally, the orbit is extended in such a way that the capsule crosses the ISS’s path, and can rendezvous with the space station at it’s 350km altitude.
Fischer and Yurchikhin will join NASA’s Peggy Whitson, Russia’s Oleg Novitskiy and France’s Thomas Pesquet. Fischer and Whitson will be speaking with President Trump on Monday. Whitson is the first woman to command the International Space Station, and on Monday, at 535 days in space, will also have stayed in orbit longer than any other American astronaut. She is also the oldest woman in space and will be returning to Earth in September together with Fischer and Yurchikhin.