Two days from now, the International Space Station (ISS) will gain three new tenants, Kevin Ford of the U.S. and Russia’s Oleg Novitskiy and Evgeny Tarelkin. The trio took off early this morning aboard the Soyuz TMA-06M spacecraft from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan for their five month stay in low-earth orbit. After docking, the new crew will immediately be put to work conducting a spacewalk for repairs and preparing SpaceX’s Dragon capsule for its descent back to Earth.
When NASA decommissioned the space shuttle missions in 2011, it meant that private companies like SpaceX in California and Orbital Sciences Corp. in Virginia had to step in to keep the ISS supplied with clothing, groceries and gear, including new science experiments. This also meant that the only remaining way for astronauts to reach it was aboard a Soviet-era Soyuz spacecraft.
Today marks the second journey to the ISS for astronaut Kevin Ford, who piloted the space shuttle Discovery on a scientific equipment run three years ago. Despite the retirement of his previous ride, Ford remains optimistic about the ISS, which is facing criticism due to the estimated $100 billion spent on its efforts over the past 12 years. “We’re going to learn the bulk of everything we know about the science that we’re doing up there in the next decade,” said Ford, according to the Associated Press.
The ISS currently is home to U.S. astronaut Sunita Williams, Russia’s Yuri Malenchenko and Japan’s Aki Hoshide who will be returning to Earth next month.