Two rockets on opposites side of the world stand ready to launch to the International Space Station as four Expedition 68 crew members prepare to return to Earth. Meanwhile, some of the orbital residents are relaxing today as others continue their critical microgravity research operations ahead of the upcoming spacecraft arrivals.
The Soyuz MS-23 crew ship will launch passengerless toward the station at 7:24 p.m. EST today from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. It will take a two-day orbital trek before docking to the Poisk module at 8:01 p.m. on Saturday. While the Soyuz spacecraft will arrive unoccupied, it is delivering crew provisions to replenish the seven orbital residents. However, the main purpose of the MS-23 is to return Roscosmos cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin and NASA astronaut Frank Rubio back to Earth later this year. The space station trio arrived at the orbiting lab on the Soyuz MS-22 crew vehicle on Sept. 21, 2022, joining the Expedition 67 crew.
The space station’s three cosmonauts are relaxing today ahead of this weekend’s MS-23 docking activities. Prokopyev and Petelin will be on duty during the crew’s sleep shift on Saturday monitoring the MS-23 as it automatically approaches and docks to the orbital lab. Flight Engineer Anna Kikina will also be up overnight assisting her crewmates.
The rest of the crew aboard the orbiting lab today worked on a variety of science hardware ensuring ongoing research operations in low-Earth orbit. Four crew members are also familiarizing themselves with the procedures they will use when they return to Earth in early March.
Rubio connected cables and attached a camera to an ultra-high temperature furnace to record scientific operations. Flight Engineer Koichi Wakata of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) activated an Astrobee robotic helper and tested its ability to maneuver inside the station without propellant using a specialized hopping technique. At the end of the day, the duo joined NASA Flight Engineers Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada and practiced the steps on a computer the steps they would use when departing the station and returning to Earth inside the SpaceX Crew Dragon Endurance next month.
Back on Earth, there are three astronauts and one cosmonaut at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida counting down to the launch of their SpaceX Crew-6 mission. The Crew-6 foursome are Commander Stephen Bowen and Pilot Warren “Woody” Hoburg, both from NASA, and Mission Specialists Sultan Alneyadi of UAE (United Arab Emirates) and Andrey Fedyaev of Roscosmos. They will lift off at 1:45 a.m. on Monday from Kennedy soaring toward the station’s space-facing port on the Harmony module for a docking at 2:38 a.m. on Tuesday. The quartet will live and work aboard the orbital outpost for six months conducting advanced space research.
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