September 15th, 2023
Russia has launched its first crewed flight in nearly a year with the flight of Soyuz MS-24 with two Russian cosmonauts and one NASA astronaut for a multi-month stay aboard the International Space Station.
Liftoff atop a Soyuz 2.1a rocket occurred at 11:44 a.m. EDT (15:44 UTC) Sept. 15, from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The Soyuz MS-24 spacecraft with Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kononenko and Nikolai Chub, and NASA astronaut Loral O’Hara reached orbit less than 10 minutes later to begin a two-orbit rendezvous profile to the ISS.
Once at the space station, docking occurred at the Earth-facing port of the Rassvet module 2:53 p.m. EDT (18:53 UTC). The trio joined the seven-person Expedition 69 crew already aboard the outpost around two hours later at 5:16 p.m. EDT (21:16 UTC) after leak checks and hatch opening.
Kononenko, Chub and O’Hara were originally slated to launch in March in Soyuz MS-23 to replace the Soyuz MS-22 crew: NASA’s Frank Rubio and Roscosmos cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitry Petelin, who launched to space for their mission on Sept. 21, 2022.
However, in December 2022, Prokopyev, Petelin and Rubio faced an unexpected challenge when a possible micrometeoroid punctured the external coolant loop of their Soyuz spacecraft, causing all the coolant to leak out. This prevented the spacecraft from sufficiently cooling the interior and would have made a return in that vehicle uncomfortably hot for the trio.
As such, Roscosmos made the decision to fly Soyuz MS-23 to the ISS without a crew to act as a replacement for Soyuz MS-22, which would land without its crew.
This meant that Kononenko, Chub and O’Hara were bumped to Soyuz MS-24 and its September 2023 launch slot. It also meant that Prokopyev, Petelin and Rubio would remain at the ISS for an additional six months.
In fact, the now Soyuz-MS-23 trio is expected to land on Sept. 27, bringing their total mission time to 371 days — the longest single mission to the International Space Station, and the third longest in human history.
Now that this nearly two-week handover period with the Soyuz MS-23 and Soyuz MS-24 crews is ongoing, the station population is temporarily at 10 people. The other four are part of the SpaceX Crew-7 mission, which launched in Crew Dragon Endurance in late August. They are NASA astronaut Jasmin Moghbeli, European Space Agency astronaut Andreas Mogensen, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Satoshi Furukawa and Roscosmos cosmonaut Konstantin Borisov.
All are part of the last phase of Expedition 69, which will transition to Expedition 70 upon the departure of Soyuz MS-23 on Sept. 27.
Of the three crew members of Soyuz MS-24, 39-year-old Chub and 40-year-old O’Hara are on their first trip into space. Kononenko, 59, is on his fifth spaceflight, the other four (all aboard the ISS) have totaled him just over 736 days between 2008 and 2018.
O’Hara is expected to return to Earth in March 2024. However, Chub and Kononenko are expected to remain at the ISS until September 2024 and return in Soyuz MS-25, which set to launch in March 2024 with two cosmonauts on a roughly 10-day stay (returning in Soyuz MS-24) and NASA’s Tracy Caldwell-Dyson for a six-month stay (returning with Chub and Kononenko.
With Kononenko’s fifth spaceflight expected to last around a year, that would make him the most experienced spaceflyer. The current record holder for most cumulative time in space is retired Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka. His five missions between 1998 and 2015 totaled 878.5 days.
Kononenko is expected to surpass that record by February 2024, be the first person to cross 900 cumulative days in space by March and over 1,000 days by next summer.
If Soyuz MS-25 returns by its currently scheduled date of Sept. 24, his total would be more than 1,100 days with his fifth trip to the ISS lasting 374 days, which itself would break the record recently set by the Soyuz MS-23 crew.
Video courtesy of NASA
Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a website about human spaceflight called Orbital Velocity. You can find him on twitter @TheSpaceWriter.