If there’s one thing that you can never seem to have enough of it’s parking spots. I always dread taking my car to large events because sure enough, everyone else has taken theirs along with them. Queue the road rage inducing tedium of driving around in circles looking for somewhere to park usually to be let down by those blasted motorbikes who hide so stealthily between two cars. Thankfully the International Space Station has recognised that they need a bit more space to park their respective vehicles and sent themselves up another one:
Astronauts on the International Space Station welcomed the arrival of a brand-new Russian module Thursday, an orbital room adds more research space and an extra parking spot for visiting spacecraft.
The unmanned module Poisk, which means “explore” in Russian, docked smoothly at a berth on top of the space station as they flew 222 miles (357 km) over northern Kazakhstan in Asia.
“The arrival of this new module for the Russian segment went great,” Russian cosmonaut Maxim Suarev radioed Mission Control in Moscow after the smooth docking. Suarev and fellow cosmonaut Roman Romanenko were poised to take remote control of the automated Poisk if the craft strayed off-course, but it flew true as expected.
Now I don’t give a lot of time to the Russian involvement on the ISS here on my blog and that’s because it’s so hard to find out any news about it. The article I’ve linked above is the only site I’ve seen thus far that’s covering this expansion of the ISS (there was another covering the launch however). Even the wikipedia article on it is rather slim, basically being a rehash of what is cover in majority of the 2 articles I’ve linked. Still this doesn’t detract from the massive amount of involvement that Russia has on a daily basis with the ISS nor the importance of this mission by itself.
The ISS marked a significant milestone this year by doubling its permanent crew from 3 to 6. It was a giant step forward for them as the 3 crew limit they had previously meant a lot of the science work could not be done as it took most of the crew’s time to keep the ISS running. Doubling the crew, which was scheduled to happen much earlier but was delayed due to the Columbia disaster, allows them to not only keep themselves aloft but also perform a lot more science. It does however mean that some additional safety measures be put in place.
Orbiting 300KM+ above the earth at a speed of about Mach 25 means that should something go wrong up there you’re basically on your own. Part of the safety precautions that they’ve taken in order to make sure that they can get the whole crew safely back to earth is to have a Soyuz capsule docked at all times that serves as a lifeboat. It’s a great idea since the Soyuz capsules are extremely reliable and have excellent fail modes ensuring maximum crew safety. However they only fit 3 people at a time and even if you wanted to there’s no way you could fit 6 people in one of them (there’s about 7M² of space in the descent module). So they’ve been keeping 2 of them up there, simple enough right?
Well almost. As it turns out parking is at a high premium up there and that only leaves them with 1 Russian docking port left over for Progress (cargo) crafts and other Soyuz capsules. Whilst they could technically survive with what they’ve got currently the ability to have multiple cargo/passenger ships docked concurrently eases mission planning considerably and ensures that there doesn’t need to be any orbital trickery to juggle ships around different ports. It’s not just a docking port either. Poisk is also adds living volume and a small research laboratory adding additional capability to the already decked out ISS.
So just like the most recent shuttle mission Poisk is just your run of the mill space station expansion. It’s not terribly exciting or sexy but it does mark an improvement in the capability that the ISS provides. It also helps remind us that the ISS really is an international collaboration of many nations and none of us could do alone what we’re doing together.