Rocket launch amidst pandemic: Expedition 63 to fly to the ISS tomorrow.

Expedition 63 will launch this week

Image credit: NASA/ Aubrey Gemignani

A new team of ISS astronauts is scheduled to launch on a Soyuz rocket tomorrow morning!

NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy and two Roscosmos cosmonauts Anatoly Ivanishin and Ivan Vagner are scheduled to launch for a 6 month stay on the International Space Station this Thursday, April 9th, at 9:04 AM (British Summer Time) from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The Expedition 63 crew will travel aboard the Soyuz MS-16 spacecraft.


This launch will be like no others. Due to coronavirus restrictions, there will be no traditional pre-launch activities. Astronauts’ families and the media will not be able to attend the launch. Luckily, we will all still be able to watch the take-off, docking and hatch opening live on NASA TV. Here is the approximate timetable:

  • 8:00 AM BST launch coverage starts 
  • 9:04 AM BST launch
  • 3:20 PM BST docking 
  • 4:15 PM BST hatch opening ceremony (opening at around 5 PM BST)

Please note: the time above is British Summer time (BST). If checking NASA website for updates, keep in mind that they use Eastern Daylight Time (EDT), which is 5 hours behind BST.


After arrival to the ISS, Expedition 63 astronauts will spend a week getting used to living in Space and working alongside the Expedition 62 astronauts Jessica Meir, Andrew Morgan and cosmonaut Oleg Skripochka. The “change of command” will officially take place on April 15th. Cassidy, Ivanishin and Vagner will stay aboard the ISS for 6 and a half months. They will return back to Earth in October 2020. 


For Chris Cassidy, who will be in charge of the ISS once the expedition 62 departs, this would be the second stay aboard the Station and the third spaceflight. Anatoly Ivanishin will be returning to the ISS for the third time. He served as a flight engineer for the Expedition 29/30 in 2011 and commander for the Expedition 49 in 2016. For Ivan Vagner the upcoming mission will be his first space flight.


With a crew of 3 instead of 6, the astronauts will carry out fewer “space experiments”. Cassidy alone will have to look after all the NASA science projects until the reinforcement arrives. It is not quite clear at the moment when this will happen. But if all goes as planned, the NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley might join Chris Cassidy sometime in mid-May. 

Behnken and Hurley will be the first human crew of the SpaceX Dragon mission. We don’t yet know whether the test mission, that will take-off from Kennedy Space Center, will last several weeks, as originally planned, or will become a long-duration mission to maximize the capacity of the Space Station.


Several replacements in the Expedition 63 team happened during the training. First, in October 2019, NASA announced that, because of the delays with the commercial crew program, Chris Cassidy will join the mission instead of the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) astronaut Akihiko Hoshide.

Six month into Cassidy’s training (and just two months prior to the scheduled launch) another changeover happened. Roscosmos decided to replace Cassidy’s crewmates, cosmonauts Nikolai Tikhonov and Andrei Babkin, with their back up crew, Anatoly Ivanishin and  Ivan Vagner. The second changeover happened due to a “medical issue”, although Roscosmos didn’t go into the details on the matter. The newly formed crew had to train extra hard these two months to make sure they are ready to perform all the tasks as a team.


Now everything and everyone is ready. We wish Expedition 63 a safe journey and a nice stay aboard the ISS. We will be waving to you every time we spot the Station passing overhead!

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