Space Station Astronauts Prepare for Crew Swap

Space Station Astronauts Prepare for Crew Swap
Russian cosmonauts Fyodor Yurchikhin (left) and Oleg Kotov, Expedition 15 commander and flight engineer, respectively; along with astronaut Clay Anderson, flight engineer, give a 'thumbs-up' signal after moving the International Space Station's PMA-3 docking port on Aug. 30, 2007 during the Expedition 15 mission. (Image credit: NASA)

Astronautsaboard the International Space Station (ISS) are preparing their orbitallaboratory for a crew swap that will begin with the arrival of three new spaceflyersnext month.

ISSExpedition 15 commander Fyodor Yurchikhin and flight engineer Oleg Kotov, bothRussian cosmonauts, are eagerly awaiting the planned Oct. 12 arrival of theirExpedition 16 relief crew, though their U.S. crewmate Clayton Anderson willstay aboard for the initial days of the new mission, NASA managers saidTuesday.

"It'shard to believe that it has already been 170 days in its execution," NASA'slead Expedition 15 flight director Bob Dempsey said of the mission during abriefing at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.

Yurchikhinand Kotov will hand control of the space station over to Expedition 16commander Peggy Whitson and flight engineer Yuri Malenchenko, who are slated tolaunchtoward the ISS with Sheikh Muszaphar Shukor --Malaysia's first astronaut -- on Oct. 10 from Baikonur Cosmodrome inKazakhstan.

The Expedition15 astronauts are completing a six-month mission that began in mid-April. Sincethen, they have staged three spacewalks and hosted two visiting NASA space shuttlecrews to continue assembly of the half-built ISS. Yurchikhin and Kotov are dueto return to Earth with Shukor on Oct. 21 while Anderson takes up his post asan Expedition 16 flight engineer.

Yurchihkhinand his Expedition 15 crewmates are also expected to clear a docking port forthe incoming Expedition 16 astronauts on Thursday, when they will move their SoyuzTMA-10 spacecraft to a berth on the aft end of the space station's Zvezdaservice module.

The Russian-builtProgress 25 cargo ship that previously occupied the Zvezda docking port wasdiscarded last week.

Earliertoday, Russian flight controllers in Moscow were expected to order thedisposable space freighter to burn up in the Earth's atmosphere after a week ofpropulsion system tests. Russian flight controllers are also expected to retracta pair of older solar arrays on the station's Zarya control module later thisweek to clear space for future ISS radiators, NASA said.

Busy ISSwork ahead

Whitson,the spacestation's first female commander, is NASA's first astronaut to serve asecond tour aboard the ISS. She last flew to the station in 2002 as an Expedition5 flight engineer and NASA's first ISS science officer.

"Herprevious experience is going to be very valuable to us as we take on this verychallenging increment," said Holly Ridings, NASA's lead Expedition 16flight director, in mission briefing. Malenchenko, who commanded the ISS in2003 during Expedition 7, also brings vital experience to the upcoming flight,she added.

Ridingssaid Whitson and her Expedition 16 crewmates will have no shortages ofchallenges during their six-month mission.

On Oct. 23,just two days after the Shukor and the Expedition 15 crew depart the ISS, NASAplans to launch the space shuttle Discovery's STS-120 astronauts on a 14-dayconstruction mission to the ISS. That shuttle mission will deliver a vitalconnecting node to the ISS, relocate an older solar array truss and ferry NASA astronautDaniel Tani to replace Anderson as part of the Expedition 16 crew.

More trickyspace station construction work and up to two more shuttle missions - each ofwhich will ferry a replacement Expedition 16 crewmember to the ISS - areplanned during the long-duration flight. The launch of unmanned Russiancargo ships and Europe's first Automated Transfer Vehicle - a robotic resupplyship dubbed Jules Verne - are also scheduled while Whitson and Malenchenko areaboard the station.

"It'sa challenging sequence, but we're going to get there," Ridings said.


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Tariq Malik

Tariq is the Editor-in-Chief of and joined the team in 2001, first as an intern and staff writer, and later as an editor. He covers human spaceflight, exploration and space science, as well as skywatching and entertainment. He became's Managing Editor in 2009 and Editor-in-Chief in 2019. Before joining, Tariq was a staff reporter for The Los Angeles Times covering education and city beats in La Habra, Fullerton and Huntington Beach. In October 2022, Tariq received the Harry Kolcum Award for excellence in space reporting from the National Space Club Florida Committee. He is also an Eagle Scout (yes, he has the Space Exploration merit badge) and went to Space Camp four times as a kid and a fifth time as an adult. He has journalism degrees from the University of Southern California and New York University. You can find Tariq at and as the co-host to the This Week In Space podcast with space historian Rod Pyle on the TWiT network. To see his latest project, you can follow Tariq on Twitter @tariqjmalik.