A new crew of three astronauts are launching to the International Space Station late tonight, blasting off on a Russian Soyuz rocket out of Kazakhstan. The trio are heading to the station about a month ahead of SpaceX’s next crewed Dragon launch, which will bring another set of four astronauts aboard the ISS in mid-November.
Heading up on this Soyuz flight are two Russian cosmonauts — Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov — and NASA astronaut Kate Rubins, on her second trip to space. The trio will join three crew members who have been living on the ISS since April: Russian cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner and NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy. However, their living arrangement won’t last long. Cassidy and his cosmonaut crew mates are slated to head back to Earth on October 21st, riding inside the Soyuz capsule that brought them to the space station.
Just a few weeks later, in early- to mid-November, Rubins and her team are set to welcome the four-member crew of SpaceX’s first operational Crew Dragon mission, called Crew-1. That flight will carry three NASA astronauts — Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, and Shannon Walker — and Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi to the ISS for a six-month stay. Their arrival on SpaceX’s new passenger vehicle will bring the total population of the ISS to seven — a larger cohort than usual for the ISS, which has typically held six-person crews since the end of the Space Shuttle program.
Rubins’ flight on the Soyuz comes amid a time of transition in NASA’s human spaceflight program. Since the last flight of the Space Shuttle in 2011, the only way NASA astronauts could get to the station was on Russia’s Soyuz rocket. But through NASA’s Commercial Crew