The Expedition 40 trio currently aboard the International Space Station is getting ready to welcome three new crew members. On Wednesday, NASA astronauts Reid Wiseman, cosmonaut Maxim Suarev and European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Alexander Gerst will be launched into space and to the ISS aboard the Soyuz TMA-13M spacecraft, which will take off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Wednesday.
NASA astronaut Steve Swanson and cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev are currently aboard the space station, with Swanson serving as the Expedition 40 Commander. According to NASA, Swanson, Skvortsov and Artemyev performed science experiments and maintenance on the ISS prior to the arrival of the three astronauts on Friday.
Swanson participated in two science investigations; the Skin-B investigation, which analyzes the rapid aging of skin in space compared to microgravity’s effect on other organs; and the Sprint VO2 exercise experiment, an intense cardiovascular and resistance exercise regimen for three days, instead of six days of exercise, which, in space, can help prevent bone and muscle loss for astronauts. Swanson also looked after plants on board the ISS, as part of the Veggie experiment. Cosmonauts Skvortsov and Artemyev performed maintenance and participated in an experiment to detect particle impacts on the ISS, assessing the risk and location of these impacts.
According to the ESA, the three astronauts in Kazakhstan are participating in some unusual routines and traditions ahead of Wednesday’s launch. Wiseman, Gerst and Suarev will have limited contact with other individuals prior to Wednesday's launch, but doctors are giving the trio a preview of the experience by spinning them around in chairs and having them stay in beds that are tilted downward. Their bodies will have to quickly adapt to weightlessness as the astronauts will control the Soyuz TMA-13M after launch, and there are no rest days aboard the ISS. The Expedition 40/41 crew will also participate in some time-honored traditions, beginning on Tuesday night as they sleep in the "cosmonaut hotel" and signing their door as they leave, the ESA noted. The astronauts will also plant a tree in the garden located behind the hotel.
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In memory of Yuri Gargarin, the first human in space, the astronauts will board a bus to the launch site but will make a quick pit stop on the side of the road, much like Gargarin did on his first launch. Prior to launching to the ISS, the astronauts will spend two hours in the cockpit as the crew completes the final preparations for launch.
Wiseman, Gerst and Suarev will launch from Baikonour Cosmodrome on Wednesday at 3:57 p.m. EDT. The ISS launch is the first since recent Russian sanctions have put a strain on the Russian-American space partnership. Outspoken Dmitry Rogozin, Deputy Prime Minister and head of the Military-Industrial Commission, has yet to comment on the ISS launch.