So NASA has gotten rid of its gas guzzler, and now has to cab it to orbit for a couple of years—in a Russian taxi no less. The end of the U.S. space program, right?
Hardly. At the moment, ten American astronauts are in training for six-month space station missions between now and 2013, with more to follow before the next American-built spacecraft comes online sometime in the mid-2010s. Traffic to Earth orbit is about to slow down, but has by no means come to a stop.
For the next few years, NASA astronauts will be riding the Russian Soyuz exclusively. Dan Burbank (above, center) is up next. He’ll be traveling to the station in November (launch is scheduled for 11:14 pm U.S. eastern time on Nov. 13) with two rookie cosmonauts, Anton Shkaplerov (to his right) and Anatoly Ivanishin (to his left).
A former Coast Guard helicopter pilot (flying HH-3F Pelicans and HH-60J Jayhawks), Burbank has already been to the station twice, but only for short visits on the shuttle. Now he’ll get to live there for six months. He'll be a flight engineer for the first part of his tour (Expedition 29), then will take over as station commander when three new crew members arrive for Expedition 30 in November (station astronauts overlap two crews so that half the residents are always up to speed). Burbank’s jobs will include capturing and docking the first commercial cargo vehicle, the SpaceX Dragon, when it arrives in December. The 50-year-old Connecticut native is on Twitter as @AstroCoastie.
To find out who else is on deck for trips to the space station, see the gallery above.
Pettit was living on the space station in February 2003 when space shuttle Columbia was lost, a tragedy that forced NASA to rely on Russian space transportation for the next two and a half years and delayed Pettit’s and his crewmates’ return to Earth. During his two spaceflights the former chemical engineer has found all kinds of projects to satisfy his curiosity and love of tinkering, from inventing a zero-g coffee cup to filming auroras to taking stunning photos of Earth’s cities at night. Now he’s returning in November for another six-month stay as the flight engineer for Expedition 30/31. He may even continue his “Saturday Morning Science” lessons from orbit.