The population of the International Space Station returned to six people as the crew of Soyuz MS-06 docked with and entered the outpost. The spacecraft hard-mated with its docking port at about 10:55 p.m. EDT Sept. 12 (02:55 GMT Sept. 13), 2017.
About 2 hours later, at 1:08 a.m. EDT (05:08 GMT), the hatches between the Soyuz and space station were opened allowing Russian cosmonaut Alexander Misurkin and NASA astronauts Mark Vande Hei and Joe Acaba to float inside. They were greeted by the already-aboard Expedition 53 crew members Sergey Ryazansky of Russia, Randy Bresnik of NASA, and Paolo Nespoli of the European Space Agency.
“It was a very smooth ride,” Vande Hei said during the customary post-docking conference with family members. “I saw the Moon out the window; that was the first thing I saw. Coming up to the station was just absolutely incredible.”
For Vande Hei, this is his first flight into space. NASA selected him to be an astronaut in 2009 before assigning him in 2015 to be part of the Expedition 51/52 increment in 2017. However, in November 2016, the space agency reassigned him to his current mission.
This is the second visit to the ISS for Misurkin. His first long-duration stay occurred in 2013 when he spent 166 days on the outpost as part of Expedition 35/36.
Acaba is on his third visit into space. His first flight occurred in 2009 as part of the crew of Space Shuttle Discovery’s STS-119 mission. Three years after that, he flew to space again as part of the ISS Expeditions 31 and 32. Before this expedition, he had 138 days of spaceflight experience.
The Soyuz MS-06 trio launched atop a Soyuz-FG rocket at 5:17 p.m. EDT (21:17 GMT) from Pad 1/5 at Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. It was the 135th flight of a Soyuz spacecraft and the 60th launch of a Soyuz-FG carrier rocket.
Additionally, the vehicle took flight just three weeks before the 60th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik, the first artificial satellite to orbit Earth. The probe launched on Oct. 4, 1957, also from Pad 1/5.
After launch, the crew inside the Soyuz MS-06 spent four orbits of Earth catching and lining up with the ISS. Once the spacecraft was within the 200-meter keep-out sphere, it flew around the complex to line up with the space-facing port of the Poisk module.
Misurkin, Vande Hei, and Acaba will remain aboard the $100 billion complex for about 5.5 months. During that time, the trio, along with the other three members of the Expedition 53 crew, will work to perform research into cosmic ray particles, manufacturing fiber optic filaments in microgravity, and bone and muscle atrophy, just to name a few. Moreover, mission managers have planned at least three spacewalks before Expedition 53 transitions to Expedition 54 in mid-December 2017.
Video courtesy of NASA
NOTE: While this article was written by Derek Richardson, it was originally published at SpaceFlight Insider. Feel free to head over there to read all the stuff they write about!