July 17, 2012
After the docking of Soyuz TMA-05M late last night, the International Space Station crew is back up to six people. With the arrival of Yuri Malenchenko and Suni Williams, and with three-time station veteran Gennady Padalka in command, this is the most experienced ISS crew ever.
Malenchenko, a 50-year-old former fighter pilot, has already spent more than 500 days in space. This is his third tour on the station and his fifth spaceflight altogether (his others were the STS-106 shuttle flight and a four-month stay on Mir in 1994). He may be most famous for his long-distance marriage to Ekaterina Dmitriev during his Expedition 7 mission in 2003. While Malenchenko, wearing a bow tie and flight suit, orbited overhead, Dmitriev was in Houston. A Texas judge officiated by video link, and the bride posed afterward with a cutout of her new cosmonaut husband.
Suni (pronounced “Sunny”) Williams is returning for her second tour on the station, having spent 194 days in orbit in 2006-2007 (still the longest spaceflight by a woman). Williams didn’t get married in space, but she’s probably one of the few people, and certainly the only astronaut, to appear on both The Dog Whisperer and The Colbert Show.
Padalka, who turned 54 in space last month, is the only three-time ISS commander to date. When he and Malenchenko go outside together on a spacewalk in mid-August, they’ll have more than 1,000 days of space experience between them.
It’s going to be a busy mission, with lots of coming and going by cargo vehicles. A Japanese HTV is due to launch on Friday carrying a load of experimental equipment, including a new aquatic habitat for fish, which will be used for biological studies. Over the next months, Russian Progress and U.S. Dragon and Cygnus commercial vehicles are also scheduled to dock.
For now, though, the crew just seems happy to be in space again, as seen below, where they chat with family and friends in Russian mission control. That’s Malenchenko in front, Williams behind him and to his left. Padalka, with the zero-g hair (there’s some bantering about that in the video), is in the back row with (l. to r.) Joe Acaba, Aki Hoshide, and Sergei Revin. At about the 22-minute mark, Malenchenko turns a weightless somersault for his young daughter.
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