BAIKONUR COSMODROME, KAZAKHSTAN – It was not even two months ago that a crew confidently told the Russian space commission here that it was ready to perform its duties in space. The journey was supposed to take half a year, but it only ended up being a few minutes. Expedition 57’s Soyuz rocket rose from the ground, began to experience some strange vibration, and then triggered an abort. Its two crew members returned home safely, but it left behind a trail of problems for the Russian space program to solve.
At least the cause came to light quickly; the Russians traced the problem to a deformed sensor in only a month, saying the rocket could carry humans again as long as several scheduled cargo flights with the Soyuz rocket went to plan. With those successfully completed, now comes the time to test on humans.
So that leaves the crew of Expedition 58 — Russia’s Oleg Kononenko, the United States’ Anne McClain, and Canada’s David Saint-Jacques — as the first people to climb on board since the abort. In fact, this will be the first spaceflight for everybody except Kononenko, who has spent hundreds of days in space across multiple missions.
At the traditional crew press conference here in Baikonur on Sunday, the media crowded on one side of a small room while astronauts answered questions in English and Russian in quarantine, behind a protective glass window. When asked how these spacefliers are feeling, the answer back was nothing but confidence.
Before the astronauts flew, NASA astronaut Anne McClain said three questions had to be answered: what happened, why, and how to prevent it from happening again. Now that the Soyuz rocket has flown two cargo flights successfully, “I am confident in Roscosmos,” she said.
To be clear, both Russia and the United States have run their own independent flight reviews certifying the Soyuz as ready to take humans on board again. Still, that is not the only difficulty the program faced in recent months.
In June, Expedition 56 lifted off from here on what appeared to be a flawless flight. However, a few weeks later, a hole was discovered on the Soyuz spacecraft that carried them to space. Luckily, the hole was in the ascent module; it will not affect the crew’s scheduled journey back to Earth on Dec. 20.
What this means is that all eyes are on the performance of the Soyuz rocket and Soyuz spacecraft for the scheduled launch on Dec. 3. You can view it at www.nasa.gov/ntv at 6:31 a.m. EST (11:31 a.m. GMT or 5:31 p.m. local time.)