A trio of space travellers blasted off to the International Space Station, using for the first time a fast-track manoeuvre that allowed them to reach the orbiting outpost in just a little over three hours.
Nasa astronaut Kate Rubins along with cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov of the Russian space agency Roscosmos lifted off as scheduled on Wednesday morning from the Russia-leased Baikonur space launch facility in Kazakhstan for a six-month stint on the station.
For the first time, they tried a two-orbit approach and docked with the space station in just a little over three hours after lift-off.
Previously it took twice as long for crews to reach the station.
Aboard the station, they were welcomed by the station’s Nasa commander, Chris Cassidy, and Roscosmos cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner, who have been aboard the complex since April and are scheduled to return to Earth in a week.
Speaking during Tuesday’s pre-launch news conference at Baikonur, Ms Rubins emphasised that the crew spent weeks in quarantine at the Star City training facility outside Moscow and then on Baikonur to avoid any threat from coronavirus.
“We spent two weeks at Star City and then 17 days at Baikonur in a very strict quarantine,” Ms Rubins said.
“During all communications with crew members, we were wearing masks.
“We made PCR tests twice and we also made three times antigen fast tests.”
“We’re planning to try some really interesting things like bio-printing tissues and growing cells in space and, of course, continuing our work on sequencing DNA,” Ms Rubins said.
Mr Ryzhikov, who will be the station’s skipper, said the crew will try to pinpoint the exact location of a leak at a station’s Russian section that has slowly leaked oxygen.
The small leak has not posed any immediate danger to the crew.
“We will take with us additional equipment which will allow us to detect the place of this leak more precisely,” he told reporters.
“We will also take with us additional improved hermetic material which will allow to fix the leak.”
In November, Ms Rubins, Mr Ryzhikov and Mr Kud-Sverchkov are expected to greet Nasa’s SpaceX first operational Crew Dragon mission, which is bringing Nasa astronauts Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker, and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Soichi Noguchi to the space station aboard the Crew Dragon vehicle.
It follows a successful Demo-2 mission earlier this year.
The Crew Dragon mission was pushed back from October 31 into November, and no new date has been set yet.
The delay is intended to give SpaceX more time to conduct tests and review data from an aborted Falcon 9 launch earlier this month.