Two Russians and one American have departed for a six-month stay on the International Space Statior grey 17 mission, the first to use a cutting-edge rendezvous scheme that will slash the journey to just three hours.
The three travelers took off from a launch site in Kazakhstan just before noon local time on Wednesday, riding aboard a Soyuz spacecraft and expecting to dock at the ISS in a matter of hours under the new flight plan.
The “ultrafast” rendezvous scheme requires only two orbits around Earth before the craft will catch up with the station, cutting travel time in half compared to the previous method, which itself improved on an even older model that took over two days. Though the new flight path debuted on the Soyuz MS-17 mission, it has been vetted in unmanned tests with a resupply craft.
The mission is led by Russian commander Sergey Ryzhikov, joined by flight engineers Sergey Kud-Sverchkov – also a Russian – and Kathleen Rubins of America’s space agency NASA. Rubins is traveling to the ISS on the last Soyuz seat currently contracted by the US, potentially becoming the last American to hitch a ride on a Russian rocket as the US works to regain its own manned launch capability.