Nine astronauts from four countries are sharing the multi-module International Space Station this weekend, an orbiting science laboratory normally equipped for six; and none of them are complaining about the cozy special arrangements to accommodate ceremonial activities involving the Olympic torch and the 2014 Winter Games set for Sochi, Russia, in February.
The station moved from three to six person operations in mid-2009. There are provisional plans to move to seven crew as NASA and the agency’s industry partners complete the development of U.S. commercial crew vehicles, perhaps in 2017.
"Absolutely, moving to nine people is doable," said NASA astronaut Karen Nyberg, the only woman in the group, when asked Friday to contemplate long-running operations with more personnel.
ISS is weekend home to nine astronauts from four nations. They are Rick Mastracchio, Koichi Wakata and Mikhail Tyurin, pictured left to right in the back. Mike Hopkins, Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanki are pictured left to right in the middle. Karen Nyberg, Fyodor Yurchikhin and Luca Parmitano, left to right, occupy the front row. Photo Credit: NASA TV
Nyberg, a mechanical engineer, ticked off a list of "big picture" modifications that would be necessary in addition to a third Soyuz crew transport capsule or one of the U.S. commercial crew vehicles to ensure a life boat capability for everyone. Those included life support systems, and in particular the hardware that removes carbon dioxide from the breathing air, and more frequent re-supply flights.
"Making up the science for us to do would be very doable," Nyberg told a multinational news conference.
European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano, of Italy, echoed her enthusiasm.
"We had to adjust our emergency procedures. All our procedures are trained and worked out for a crew of six. We had to come up with ways to respond in case something happens," Parmitano noted. "The last modification, but probably the most important for every day life was finding space for the crew to sleep. In the end, we decided the old crew had seniority and would stay in the crew quarters each had before. The new crew was kind enough to pick one of the modules -- they are all nice and spacious and cozy enough -- and that is where they are sleeping."
Typically, the ISS partners exchange half the six crew members ever four to six months. Three descend to Earth in a Soyuz capsule leaving three to tend the station for a few weeks until three new astronauts from the ISS partner nations arrive on a new Soyuz spacecraft.
The procedure was altered to permit the visit of a ceremonial Olympic torch, carried to the station as the Soyuz TMA-11M arrived early Thursday with Mikhail Tyurin, Rick Mastracchio and Koichi Wakata, Russian, U. S. and Japanese astronauts.
Cosmonaut Mikhail Tyurin holds ceremonial Olympic torch. Photo Credit: NASA TV
The unlit torch will accompany cosmonauts Oleg Kotov and Sergey Ryazanskiy as they depart the station's Russian segment airlock on Saturday for a six hour spacewalk. The torch will be returned to the airlock after a photo session, while Kotov and Ryazanskiy prepare an external pointing platform for the installation of a high resolution camera system in December, relocate a foot restraint for use on future spacewalks and deactivate an experiment package.
Late Sunday, the ISS will resume six crew operations as the Soyuz TMA-09M departs with Nyberg, Parmitano and station commander Fyodor Yurchikhin, of Russia. They will carry the torch back to Earth as they end 5 1/2 months in orbit with a landing in Kazakhstan.
The space torch will continue on to Sochi, where it is to be used to ignite the Olympic flame for the Winter Games, which are scheduled to open Feb. 7.