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Russian cosmonaut, US female astronaut, French saxophonist to fly to world’s sole orbiter

The new expedition will be the second flight for Russian cosmonaut Novitsky and the third for Whitson while Pesquet will fly to the ISS for the first time
Peggy Whitson, Oleg Novitsky and Thomas Pesquet  EPA/YURI KOCHETKOV
Peggy Whitson, Oleg Novitsky and Thomas Pesquet

BAIKONUR, November 17. /TASS/. Russian cosmonaut Oleg Novitsky, NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson and European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet will set off for the International Space Station (ISS) from the Baikonur spaceport in Kazakhstan in a new expedition, Russia’s State Space Corporation Roscosmos told TASS on Thursday. 

"The launch of the transport manned spacecraft Soyuz MS-03 is scheduled for 23:20 Moscow time [20:20 GMT] on November 17," the Roscosmos spokesman said.

The launch was initially planned for November 16 but was delayed for 24 hours owing to ballistic conditions. The new expedition will be a jubilee mission: this will be the 50th launch to the ISS.

The spacecraft will be delivered to a near-Earth orbit by a Soyuz-FG carrier rocket nine minutes after the launch and will head for the ISS. Its autonomous flight will last 48 hours due to the need to check the systems of the new series spacecraft. The Soyuz MS-03 spaceship is scheduled to dock with the Rassvet module of the ISS’s Russian segment at 01:02 a.m. Moscow time on November 20 (22:02 GMT on November 19).

Russian cosmonaut Novitsky earlier said that most of the scientific experiments the new expedition would carry out aboard the world’s sole orbiter had been going on for quite a long time but there were also new tests coming.

Overall, 44 experiments are planned. In particular, Russian cosmonauts will work jointly with foreign counterparts on an experiment devoted to the fluid shift in the human body. As part of the Russian flight program, no outer space walks are planned, Novitsky said.

Saxophone in orbit

Cosmonaut Novitsky said he would take with him a flag of Belarus where he was born and where he grew up, and also, if possible, a pennon or a small flag of the Zapashny Brothers Circus.

Pesquet intends to give tribute to his devotion to judo and take the black belt with him and tell children from the orbit about the role of martial arts in his life. Besides, he plans to play the saxophone that may be delivered to the ISS by one of space freighters.

The astronaut did not rule out that he might get a musical instrument as a gift for Christmas or his birthday, which the Frenchman will celebrate in February. After the space expedition is over, the saxophone may stay aboard the space station so that other cosmonauts and astronauts will be able to play it.

As for US female astronaut Whitson, she said that she was not going to burden the ISS with her belongings because her suitcase will be lighter than that of her colleagues.

The new expedition crew has chosen the word Kazbek as their call sign. Kazbek is the name of a major mountain in the Caucasus, which will be depicted on the crew’s emblem. The new expedition participants are also taking three toy cosmonauts resembling the crewmembers as their mascots and an indicator of zero gravity.

The new expedition will be the second flight for Russian cosmonaut Novitsky and the third for Whitson while Pesquet will fly to the ISS for the first time. Whitson is also the world record holder among women by the time of staying in orbit (377 days).

The spacecraft

The Soyuz MS (MS stands for modernized systems) is a new Russian manned spaceship, part of the Soyuz spacecraft family (the first launch took place in 1966 and the first manned flight was carried out in 1967). The first spacecraft of this series set off for the ISS on July 7, 2016. 

The Soyuz MS, like its previous modification (the Soyuz TMA-M), has been developed on the basis of the Soyuz TMA series (operational in 2002-2011) through profound upgrade.

As compared to the previous modification, the new version features an upgraded command and telemetry system capable of operating through Luch relay satellites, a new Kurs-NA rendezvous and docking system and other equipment. Besides, the new series spacecraft feature an improved electric power supply system while solar panels generate more energy.