Future Space Station Commander Will Scout Golf Courses from Space

NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough
NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough will command Expedition 50 aboard the International Space Station. Here, he's pictured during postlaunch activities as a mission specialist on the shuttle flight STS-126 in 2008. (Image credit: NASA Johnson via Flickr)

NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough, an avid golfer, plans to take pictures of greens around the world when he returns to the International Space Station this fall.

Kimbrough is set to command Expedition 50, tentatively scheduled for the fall. While in space, he'll replace his tee-offs at the Bay Oaks Country Club near Houston with small mementos from home: flags from some of his favorite courses.

Kimbrough's Expedition 49/50 mission, which was delayed from Sept. 30 but should launch this fall from Kazakhstan's Baikonur Cosmodrome, will likely feature visits from several cargo vehicles from Russia, Japan and the United States. [The International Space Station: Inside and Out (Infographic)]

The crew will also take spacewalks in January to prepare the space station for the arrival of crewed vehicles from SpaceX and Boeing in 2017 or 2018."We don't have a whole bunch in my increment to make [the station] very different," Kimbrough told Space.com in a phone interview from Star City, Russia. That will be a big contrast from his previous mission in 2008, when his shuttle crew made several structural changes to the station to expand the crew capacity from three to six people.

Busy cargo arrivals

Earlier this month, U.S. cargo provider SpaceX suffered a setback when its Falcon 9 rocket exploded on the launchpad during a launch test at Cape Canaveral, taking a $200 million Israeli communications satellite with it. The cause of the explosion is still under investigation. The Falcon 9 is also the rocket used to heft the Dragon cargo spacecraft to the International Space Station. 

Kimbrough is expecting two Dragon flights during his mission, in November and February. He added that he has not heard if the SpaceX rocket explosion will affect the launch schedule. 

Even if Dragon doesn't make it to the station, several other cargo flights are scheduled between now and February. These include two Russian Progress flights, two commercial U.S. Cygnus flights and the Japanese Kounotori H-II Transfer Vehicle.

"It's like Christmas every time one of those shows up," Kimbrough said. Besides restocking food and equipment and bringing up science supplies, the cargo capsules usually contain a few gifts for crewmembers — including fresh fruit, a rare treat for astronauts who have a lot of freeze-dried food in their diets.

Adapting for future dockings

Currently, space station crews must use the robotic Canadarm2 to grab most arriving vehicles (except for Progress and Soyuz, which use a port on the station's Russian segment), but that will change as crews convert two old space shuttle docking ports to accommodate more types of spacecraft. This includes the commercial crew vehicles from Boeing and SpaceX, which are expected to start runs to the space station as early as next year. 

The first International Docking Adapter (IDA) was successfully installed in July. Kimbrough's crew plans a pair of spacewalks in January to set up wiring for a second IDA, which will be flown up to the space station in 2017.

Kimbrough and Russian crewmates Andrei Borisenko and Sergey Ryzhikov are about to go to the Baikonur Cosmodrome for the last two weeks of training, including two visits to their Soyuz launch vehicle to sit inside and familiarize themselves with the controls.

Upon arriving at the space station, the crew will join three people already on board: Russian cosmonaut Anatoli Ivanishin, American astronaut Kate Rubins and Japanese astronaut Takuya Onishi, who began Expedition 49 Sept. 6. 

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for Space.com for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace