NASA astronaut Chris Cassidy could become the lone US astronaut aboard the International Space Station for as long as six months next year. The proposed reduction is a result of uncertainty in the development of commercial crew vehicles.
NASA announced on October 30 that the 49-year-old veteran astronaut Chris Cassidy would launch aboard a Soyuz spacecraft with Roscosmos crewmates Nikolai Tikhonov and Andrei Babkin next April. Unlike most other expedition crews, however, Cassidy, Tikhonov, and Babkin are preparing to man the orbital outpost without any additional support.
Speaking at a November 7 NASA press briefing, Cassidy explained that the crew was undergoing additional training, which included training on US-side equipment for the two cosmonauts.
“We’re preparing for a six-month duration where it’s just the three of us,” said Cassidy. “We’re getting lots of extra training, at specialist levels, for Andrei and Nikolai on all the U.S.-side equipment.”
The six-month stay aboard the ISS will be Cassidy’s third spaceflight and second long-duration mission, while Andrei and Nikolai will both be taking their first flight into space. The veteran NASA astronaut was selected specifically for his experience and in particular his spacewalk experience.
Cassidy has spent a total of 31 hours and 14 minutes working in the vacuum of space over six separate spacewalks during his decade-long career. This experience will be pivotal to ensuring the station retains spacewalk capabilities with Cassidy acting as a guide for the two rookies.
Although the smaller crew will not put the station’s operation at any risk, the number of hours the crew will be able to dedicate to research will be significantly reduced.