Live launch coverage is underway on NASA Television and the agency’s website for the targeted lift off at 6:31 a.m. EST (5:31 p.m. in Baikonur) of a Soyuz spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. NASA astronaut Anne McClain, David Saint-Jacques of the Canadian Space Agency, and Oleg Konenenko of the Russian space agency Roscosmos will begin a six-hour journey to the International Space Station.
A Russian spacewalk is planned before three Expedition 57 crew members return to Earth aboard a Soyuz spacecraft just before Christmas. Meanwhile, in the middle of the spacewalk and departure preparations, the International Space Station residents today also explored how living in space impacts the human muscle system.
Flight Engineer Sergey Prokopyev will work outside the space station Dec. 11 to inspect the Soyuz MS-09 crew vessel. The Russian spacewalker will join veteran cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko for a scheduled 6-hour inspection on the outside of the spaceship that will return the Expedition 57 crew home Dec. 19 U.S. time.
Gerst and Auñón-Chancellor then moved on to a study that has been ongoing aboard the orbital lab since September of 2017 observing how muscles adapt to outer space. The duo set up the Columbus lab module for research operations and scanned their head and foot muscles with an ultrasound device. The data may help doctors improve fitness in space and develop treatments for muscle and aging problems on Earth.
Back on Earth, on opposite sides of the globe, a pair of rockets are getting ready to send a new crew and more science and supplies to the space station. Russia’s Soyuz MS-11 spacecraft will launch Kononenko and fellow crew members Anne McClain and David Saint-Jacques from Kazakhstan to the station on Monday at 6:31 a.m. EST. The following day at 1:38 p.m. in Florida, the SpaceX Dragon will blast off to the station to deliver more than 5,600 pounds of cargo to resupply the station residents.
Astronaut Anne McClain monitored the activities from the cupola and watched Dragon perform a series of departure burns as it separated itself to a safe distance from the orbital lab. Integrated operations between mission controllers in Houston and SpaceX controllers in California stop when Dragon reaches a point about one kilometer away from the station.
SpaceX personnel will retrieve Dragon after it parachutes to a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean Monday at 12:15 a.m. (9:15 p.m. Sunday Pacific time) then tow it to port in southern California. This will be the first nighttime splashdown and recovery for the Dragon with plenty of moonlight to track its entry.
The commercial cargo vessel is taking home a variety of critical space research that will immediately be picked up by NASA engineers and distributed to scientists across the nation. Station hardware will also be extracted for analysis, refurbishment or discarding.
The next Dragon mission to the space station will be its first uncrewed demonstration mission designated SpaceX DM-1. The Commercial Crew Program’s first launch is currently targeted for February and will demonstrate ground systems, orbit to docking activities and landing operations.