Soyuz Launch Ushers in New Era for International Space Station

Soyuz Launch Ushers in New Era for International Space Station

The long-awaited expansion of the permanent crew size of the International Space Station (ISS) to six is about to become a reality. The result should be a substantial increase in the amount of scientific research that can be conducted aboard the orbiting complex.

A Russian Soyuz spacecraft was launched this morning from the Baikonur launch site in Kazakhstan with three crew members — one each from Canada, Belgium and Russia. They are scheduled to dock with the ISS on Friday and will join the three current ISS crew – one each from the United States, Russia and Japan. The makeup of the crew highlights the international character of the ISS endeavor. The ISS is being built by a partnership composed of the United States, Russia, 11 members of the European Space Agency, Japan, and Canada.

While it is common to have six crew members aboard the ISS for about a week during crew changeovers, and larger complements while the space shuttle is docked, those are temporary. The “six person crew” milestone indicates that six people will be aboard the ISS permanently. Like the 2- and 3-person permanent crews that have been the norm since the first crew arrived in November 2000, the individuals who comprise the crew will change on a regular basis. Regular tours of duty are 4-6 months for any one person.

Routine operation and maintenance of the ISS complex is estimated to consume essentially full time for two to two and a half members of the crew. Consequently, when only three permanent crew are aboard, little time is available for scientific research, which was one of the basic rationales for building the ISS. The increased crew size should mean increased scientific research which may help build support for continued ISS operations. Currently, NASA expects to discontinue its support of the ISS after 2016, although discussions are ongoing among NASA and the other partners about whether that date should be extended

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