3 astronauts move Soyuz to new space station dock ahead of film crew arrival

Three astronauts relocated a Russian Soyuz crew capsule to a new port on the space station on Tuesday (Sept. 28) to make room for the arrival of another Soyuz vehicle next week carrying a Russian film crew. 

Soyuz Cmdr. Oleg Novitsky, a cosmonaut with Russia's space agency Roscosmos, piloted the spacecraft during the short 40-minute ride, assisted by fellow cosmonaut Pyotr Dubrov and NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei. The procedure went smoothly.

"A perfect approach and a flawless docking," NASA spokesperson Rob Navias said during the agency's broadcast of the maneuver.

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The Soyuz MS-18 spacecraft during a relocation maneuver on Sept. 28, 2021. (Image credit: NASA)

The spacecraft undocked from the Earth-facing Rassvet module of the International Space Station at 8:21 a.m. EDT (1221 GMT) and retreated first to a distance of 150 feet (45 meters) away from the Russian segment of the station. At this distance, it rolled sideways before moving further away, to a distance of 393 feet (120 m) and making a short detour toward the U.S segment. The purpose of this detour was to capture new photographs and video of the entire orbital outpost. 

Novitsky then navigated the spaceship back to the Russian segment, where it attached to the active docking port of the recently-arrived Nauka multipurpose laboratory module at 9:04 a.m. EDT (1304 GMT). 

"Today's relocation is complete, the stage now set for next Tuesday's arrival of the Soyuz MS-19," Navias said. "A lot of activity coming up at the International Space Station over the course of the next few days."

The docking is the first at the troubled Russian science module, which limped to the space station in July with a malfunctioning propulsion system and telemetry problems. The module, previously plagued with delays during development, caused an emergency situation shortly after its docking when its thrusters fired unexpectedly due to a computer glitch, causing the entire station to rotate around its axis one and a half times.

But all seems well with Nauka now as the space station prepares to welcome its first two non-astronauts since 2009. Russian actress Yulia Peresild and film director Klim Shipenko are scheduled to arrive on Oct. 5 with cosmonaut Anton Shkaplerov. The two artists will film a movie called "The Challenge" during their stay, the first film ever shot in space. They will return to Earth on Oct. 17 on Soyuz MS-18 together with Novitsky. 

Vande Hei and Dubrov are scheduled to remain aboard the station until March 2022. When he returns, Vande Hei will have set the record for the longest single spaceflight for an American. 

Before the new visitors arrive, the space station will see a departure of the SpaceX Cargo Dragon resupply ship packed with science gear and cargo for return to Earth. Cargo Dragon is scheduled to undock from the Harmony module's forward international docking adapter on Thursday (Sept. 30) at 9:05 a.m. EDT (1305 GMT).

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Tereza Pultarova
Senior Writer

Tereza is a London-based science and technology journalist, aspiring fiction writer and amateur gymnast. Originally from Prague, the Czech Republic, she spent the first seven years of her career working as a reporter, script-writer and presenter for various TV programmes of the Czech Public Service Television. She later took a career break to pursue further education and added a Master's in Science from the International Space University, France, to her Bachelor's in Journalism and Master's in Cultural Anthropology from Prague's Charles University. She worked as a reporter at the Engineering and Technology magazine, freelanced for a range of publications including Live Science, Space.com, Professional Engineering, Via Satellite and Space News and served as a maternity cover science editor at the European Space Agency.