Soyuz crew docks at space station after 2-day rendezvous


Two days after launch, a Russian Soyuz crew ferry ship caught up with the International Space Station Monday and moved in for a picture-perfect docking, bringing two short-duration crew members and a NASA astronaut starting a six-month stay in orbit.

With Soyuz MS-25/71S commander Oleg Novitskiy, Belarus guest flier Marina Vasilevskaya and NASA veteran Tracy Dyson monitoring the automated approach, the spacecraft glided in from below and docked at the Earth-facing Prichal module at 11:03 a.m. EDT

The Soyuz MS-25/71S spacecraft flies over Croatia Monday on final approach to the International Space Station. On board: veteran cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy, Belarus guest flier Marina Vasilevskaya and NASA astronaut Tracy Dyson. / Credit: NASA TV

The Soyuz MS-25/71S spacecraft flies over Croatia Monday on final approach to the International Space Station. On board: veteran cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy, Belarus guest flier Marina Vasilevskaya and NASA astronaut Tracy Dyson. / Credit: NASA TV

After leak checks to verify an airtight structural seal, hatches were opened and the Soyuz crew floated into the station, greeted by ISS commander Oleg Kononenko, cosmonauts Nikolai Chub and Alexander Grebenkin, along with NASA astronauts Loral O’Hara, Matthew Dominick, Michael Barratt and Jeanette Epps.

Vasilevskaya (blue flight suit at left) waves at a camera moments after floating into the International Space Station. Dyson floats next to her at upper left with Jeanette Epps at lower left. / Credit: NASA TV

Vasilevskaya (blue flight suit at left) waves at a camera moments after floating into the International Space Station. Dyson floats next to her at upper left with Jeanette Epps at lower left. / Credit: NASA TV

“Marina, you opened the door to Belarus to be in space,” Russian mission control radioed from Moscow. “So have a great and safe mission. Enjoy your work, your time off. We are so proud of you. The whole people of Belarus (are) proud of you.”

Vasilevskaya, smiling broadly, said through an interpreter, “I’m so happy that Belarus has made it safely and soundly to the International Space Station.”

“It took us two days, but we are in great spirits, and I’m super happy that it went this way. I loved all of the aspects of it. … We are so happy that you are supporting us. It’s a great pleasure to us and brings strength to us.”

NASA’s mission control team congratulated Novitskiy for safely returning “to your second home. We are happy to see you on the station once again.”

“Tracy, it’s so great to see your smiling face back on ISS,” said Costa Mavrides, NASA’s spacecraft communicator. Everyone here in Houston, including your family and friends in the viewing room, are beaming with pride watching the screen.

The combined 10-member station crew gathered for a brief video call with the Russian mission control center near Moscow. Back row (left to right): Nikolai Chub, Alexander Grebenkin, Mike Barratt, Oleg Kononenko, Matthew Dominick, Loral O'Hara. Front row (left to right): Tracy Dyson, Oleg Novitskiy, Marina Vasilevskaya, Jeanette Epps. / Credit: NASA TV

Kononenko, Chub and O’Hara were launched last September aboard the Soyuz MS-24/70S ferry ship while Dominick, Barratt, Epps and Grebenkin arrived earlier this month aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon.

Dyson is replacing O’Hara, who will return to Earth April 6 with Novitskiy and Vasilevskaya aboard the older MS-24/70S spacecraft that carried her into orbit last year. Dyson will come home next September with Kononenko and Chub using the MS-25/71S spacecraft delivered by Novitskiy.

The Soyuz swap out was required because Kononenko and Chub are midway through a year-long stay aboard the station, and the Russian crew ships are not certified for flights lasting longer than six months.

After Novitskiy, Vasilevskaya and O’Hara depart, the station’s NASA fliers will press ahead with on-going research and make preparations for the arrival of Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft in early May, the first piloted flight of a NASA-sponsored alternative to SpaceX’s Crew Dragon.

After two unpiloted test flights and extensive work to correct software problems and unexpected trouble with corroded propulsion system valves, NASA and Boeing officials say the spacecraft is finally ready to carry astronauts to and from the station.

An artist's impression of Boeing's Starliner on final approach to the International Space Station. The first piloted flight of a Starliner is planned for early May. / Credit: NASA

An artist’s impression of Boeing’s Starliner on final approach to the International Space Station. The first piloted flight of a Starliner is planned for early May. / Credit: NASA

For the upcoming “crew flight test,” astronauts Barry “Butch” Wilmore and Sunita Williams will put the ship’s automated and manual control systems to the test during the trip to and from the station, spending about 10 days aboard the outpost.

If the flight goes well, the Starliner will be certified for use in future ISS crew rotation missions, alternating with SpaceX’s Crew Dragon and providing NASA with redundancy when it comes to launching astronauts to and from the space station.

“Today, all of our Crew Dragons are launching on (SpaceX Falcon 9 rockets),” said space station Program Manager Dana Weigel. “If there was a problem with F9, for example, and we had to stand down for a while … if we had another vehicle we could continue flying.”

And that would help ensure a permanent U.S. presence aboard the space station.

“So that’s the reason, when we talk about having multiple providers, why it’s so important for us to have that continual capability,” Weigel said.

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