We have liftoff! NASA Astronaut Peggy Whitson, European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet, and Roscosmos cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy launched in the Expedition 50/51 mission up to the International Space Station on November 17. There, they met NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough and cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Andrey Borisenko, who docked with the ISS a couple weeks ago. Whitson became the Commander of the ISS when they arrived on Saturday.
Three weeks earlier, the latter three astronauts launched in the 49/50 mission that would bring them up to the station, and that capsule would bring the astronauts currently residing in the station back from the previous mission to Earth. On Saturday, two days after the launch, Whitson, Pesquet, and Novitskiy joined Kimbrough, Ryzhikov, and Borisenko when they docked with the Rassvet module, one of four Russian docking ports on the space station.
The entire six-man crew will perform and contribute to hundreds of experiments in biology, biotechnology, physical science, and earth science aboard the microgravity laboratory. All six astronauts are scheduled to return this spring.
With Saturday’s docking, Peggy Whitson has become the first woman to command the space station twice. She first commanded the station in 2007, becoming the first woman to do so. Whitson has an advanced degree in biochemistry, and prior to to her selection to the NASA Astronaut Corps, she served in prominent medical science research and supervisory positions at NASA.
While the five other astronauts on this mission are veterans, Thomas Pesquet is on his first mission into space. Pesquet joined the European Space Agency in 2009 and finished basic training in 2010. He is a major in spacecraft design and control,and is an avid scuba diver and skydiver.
With a successful dock at the space station, the full crew is ready to go, and we can’t wait to see them back on Earth in six months!