Space Station Sunday: Christmas Cygnus & Homebound Crew All Arrive Safely

Happy Sunday, space fans!  It's time once again for an assessment of all things awesome in orbit.

The Cygnus leaves Florida for space, bearing Christmas goodies and science.
(Image courtesy NASA TV.)

This week saw the arrival of the Cygnus spacecraft at the station, as well as the return of three ISS crew.  The homebound spacefarers - NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren, JAXA astronaut Kimiya Yui, and cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko - landed in Kazahkstan on Friday after having spent 141 days in space.  Their landing was the first to occur after sunset, and only the sixth to have departed the station during nighttime.  

Kononenko, having completed his third mission, has now spent an accrued 533 days in space, while Lindgren and Yui were on their maiden voyage.  

The Soyuz reentry vehicle puts a whole new spin on the phrase "tight ride."
(Image courtesy

Last Sunday, after several launch attempts that were scrubbed, the Cygnus spacecraft launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida.  Its 7,300 pounds of science and supplies arrived at the ISS on Wednesday, where it was grappled to the station using the Canadarm-2 robotic arm.  The unmanned spacecraft, a.k.a. the S.S. Deke Slayton II, was named in honor of the late NASA astronaut Donald "Deke" Slayton, who was one of the original Mercury astronauts and a member of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project - America and Russia's first joint spaceflight mission.

The S.S. Deke Slayton escapes its earthly bonds...
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly /

It's Santa's sleigh of science!
(Image courtesy

Gotcha!  The Canadarm-2, operated by Kjell Lindgren, snags the Cygnus.
(Image courtesy

On Tuesday, three new crew plan to head up to the ISS via Baikonur, Kazahkstan.  NASA astronaut Tim Kopra, ESA astronaut Tim Peake, and cosmonaut Yuri Malenchenko comprise the Expedition 46 team, and will ride to the ISS in a Soyuz TMA-19 spacecraft.  The event will be televised on NASA TV beginning at 5:00 AM Eastern Standard Time, with the launch slated for 6:03 AM.

What rocket?  Oh, yeah.  That rocket.
(Image courtesy

Astronaut Peake is Britain's first emissary to the ISS, and his nation's outpouring of appreciation has been profuse.  His Twitter account even includes well-wishing from the British rock band The Who, quoting one of their classics and saying, "The Who wish @astro_timpeake well on 15 Dec. #spacerocks #ICanSeeForMiles."  Other Brit rockers including Duran Duran, Peter Gabriel and Coldplay also sent their regards for Peake's safe travels, and the BBC put together a guide explaining various elements of Peake's mission.

The three astronauts will spend the next six months in space, and will see home the members of the One Year Crew, who yes, are still up there and didn't hitch a quick spin home on the Soyuz just to grab a steak or some fresh air.  Astronaut and One Year Crewman Scott Kelly put this in elegant perspective on his facebook this week, stating, "Day 256. The Milky Way births 7 new stars a year, so 2 star births to go."

Astronaut Kelly has been up there a while now, and he's acutely aware of the stars' turf.
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly /

Speaking of stars, if you happen to be gazing at them this week, you may have some fiery surprises.  Tonight, tomorrow, and Tuesday will be the best nights to catch the Geminid meteor shower.  For greatest results, go outside around 2 AM.  Impress your friends when heading outside after last call!

That's all for this week, space fans.  We'll see you next Sunday with news on the station's new arrivals.  Watch this space!

The Expedition 45 Soyuz vanishes into the horizon after leaving the ISS.
(Image courtesy Scott Kelly /

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