Why Thomas Pesquet and the astronauts must be in the SpaceX capsule when traveling

During the maneuver near the International Space Station, all the astronauts of the Crew-2 mission, including Thomas Pesquet, will have to be on board the SpaceX capsule. Security reasons justify it.

It is this Wednesday, July 21 that an important maneuver takes place around the International Space Station. In anticipation of the arrival at the end of the month of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner capsule, the SpaceX spacecraft currently docked to the ISS must be relocated. Instead of being an extension of the Harmony module, it will now be on the side, at another home port.

If the procedure is not entirely new (it has already taken place this spring, except that this time it involved two SpaceX capsules), it nevertheless paves the way for a great first: if all goes well, it For the first time in history there will then be two different American spacecraft supplied by two private companies docked to the ISS.

The capsule can accommodate seven people, but it will only be occupied by four astronauts during the maneuver. // Source: Nasa

During this operation, which will take place in orbit around the Earth at nearly 400 km high, the four members of the Crew-2 mission (Shane Kimbrough, Mega McArthur, Akihiko Hoshide and Thomas Pesquet) will be aboard the SpaceX capsule. that will be moved. The astronauts are already in place. Which, of course, begs a question: why do they have to be on board?

Some would say: because they must be able to maneuver the capsule close to the ISS, having a direct view of the cabin, rather than going through operators remaining at the control center or through automatic on-board controls . But in this case, is it necessary for all four of them to be on board? Couldn’t they just be one or two?

Urgently bring in the astronauts when needed

In fact, it is mainly for safety reasons that the presence of the four astronauts is required on board. It is a question of having everyone on board (the capsule has room for seven people maximum) in the very hypothetical case or they do not manage to hang on to the International Space Station. In this case, they would have to desorb and re-enter Earth.

If such a problematic scenario arose, then it would be better to repatriate the four astronauts at once, rather than one, two or three, and leave the rest of the crew in the ISS, without having a means of transport to return. – there is certainly the Soyuz MS-18 capsule, but it can only carry three people (and, in an emergency, it would be Piotr Doubrov, Oleg Novitsky and Mark Vande Hei).

Soyuz shuttle capsule

Soyuz shuttle capsule
The Soyuz shuttle can also repatriate personnel, but in smaller quantities. // Source: NASA on The Commons

This is exactly the procedure that was followed this spring during the space ballet in anticipation of the docking of the two SpaceX capsules: the members of Crew-1 (Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, Shannon Walker and Soichi Noguchi) had to climb to edge of the one already in place, when moving from one port to another of the Harmony module. Fortunately, everything had gone well.

« The quartet should be on board the vehicle in the unlikely event that [il] could not re-dock. This ensures that there are no more crew members on the International Space Station than seats available on docked crew ships. », Taking into account, for example, the space available on the Soyuz. Because in case of need, we must be able to evacuate everyone.

These procedures are not recent. We find traces of it from the first years of ISS activity, for example in February 2001, when NASA evoked maneuvers with the Soyuz and, in the event of a failure for the stowage, the need for the crew on board. of the capsule to return to Earth. Sometimes, it was even necessary to configure the ISS so that it could manage itself automatically, without a crew, just in case.

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