Between Brexit, Donald Trump, and Russia’s ongoing geopolitical ebb, it would appear that the people of Earth are having a referendum on globalization. Which makes tomorrow’s launch of three fresh bodies to the ISS particularly interesting.
Besides irony, the vacuum-sealed capsule launching from Baikonur Cosmodrone at 3:20pm EST will contain Russian cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy, the European Space Agency’s Thomas Pesquet, and American Peggy Whitson. The latter is a veteran astronaut with 377 cumulative days in space, who will come close to beating the current record time in space for a US astronaut, set earlier this year by Jeff Williams (534 days).
But hey, it’s not a competition. This is about international collaboration, and humanity’s journey to becoming an off-Earth species. To that end, the three spacefarers will join Shane Kimbrough of NASA and Roscosmos cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Andrey Borisenko in experiments and operations until Expedition 50 ends in March 2017.
Which is actually more a beginning than an end. While Kimbrough, Ryzhikov, and Borisenko hitch a Soyuz ride back to Earth, Whitson will stay on board with Novitskiy and Pesquet, and the ISS will roll over into Expedition 51. When it does, Whitson will take command of the ISS, becoming the second female in history to do so.
Tune into the livestream around 3pm EST for pre-launch commentary. Once their capsule reaches low Earth orbit, the trio will spend two days catching up to the ISS before docking. You can watch that live, too, on November 19, starting around 4:15 pm EST.
Whitson has a pretty interesting backstory, so check out the NASA-produced video below if you want to calm your pre-launch jitters with some good ole American bootstrappiness (raised on a farm? check). The best part is when she talks about selling chickens to pay for her first pilot’s license.