It’s unusual to know someone whose job includes sitting on top of a rocket awaiting launch into low Earth orbit. But on the morning of July 28, 2017, my colleague Marty Kelsey and I will watch a live broadcast of Randy “Komrade” Bresnik’s launch into space for the second time in his career. We met Bresnik earlier this year while he was training in Houston. He will take off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, the launch site of the very first artificial satellite, Sputnik. Bresnik, a former Marine Corps pilot, will be accompanied by mission commander and biologist cosmonaut Sergey Ryazansky of Russia, and Italian aerospace engineer and European Space Agency astronaut Paolo Nespoli of Italy.
The crew will launch aboard a Soyuz spacecraft on top of a Soyuz rocket built by the same company that built Sputnik and Vostok and operated by the Russian Space Agency. Since the end of the U.S. space shuttle program, Soyuz rockets have been the only vehicle that has taken people to the International Space Station (ISS).
The crew will board the capsule approximately two and a half hours before launch. Once launched, it will take the Soyuz a little over six hours to reach the ISS in orbit. This may seem like a lot of time, but the spacecraft will have to maneuver in its orbit to catch up with the station. Six hours is considered the short route. Previously, Soyuz capsules took as long as two days to reach orbiting stations. The journey will be tight with low visibility. The crew will lie three-abreast in a space that is comparable to a compact car. The capsule has only two small portholes on either side. Nine minutes from launch, they will reach a speed of 28,164 kilometers per hour (17,500 miles per hour)—orbital velocity. Docking to the ISS is automated, so the crew aboard the capsule will not have to steer it, but they could if necessary. The hatch of the ISS is scheduled to open at 7:40 pm EDT.
You can watch the launch—and the current crew of the space station, Expedition 52, welcome their new crewmates—on July 28 live on NASA TV.
Before the launch, enjoy our next video and activity in our ISS Science series.
How to Launch a Rocket
Subject: Physical Science | Grade Level: 5-8 | Time: 1-2 class periods
Lesson Plan: How to Launch a Rocket
Be sure to check out ISS Science. Look for these videos throughout Bresnik’s mission, and follow along with the hashtag #ISSScience.