Here’s why an empty crew ship is on its way to the space station

An empty Russian Soyuz spacecraft with three empty seats is currently heading to the International Space Station (ISS). It began its journey from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 7:24 p.m. ET on Thursday, February 23.

No, a flight like this is not normal.

It’s come about after another Soyuz spacecraft, which is currently docked at the ISS, sprung a serious coolant leak in December. That was a problem, as it meant that the three astronauts who traveled to the station aboard the now-damaged spacecraft had no ride home.

As part of a rescue mission, NASA’s counterpart, Roscosmos, decided that the best course of action would be to send a replacement Soyuz spacecraft — MS-23 — to the station to bring home NASA astronaut Frank Rubio and Roscosmos cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin.

Roscosmos will attempt to return the damaged MS-22 capsule to Earth, too, so that it can examine it more closely to confirm if the leak was caused by a micrometeoroid strike.

The new Soyuz MS-23 spacecraft will arrive at the station following a two-day voyage before docking automatically.

NASA will live stream the spaceship’s rendezvous and docking, with coverage starting at 7:15 p.m. ET on Saturday, February 25.

It’s a busy time for the space station as the current inhabitants of the facility are also preparing for the arrival of four new crewmembers early next week.

As part of the Crew-6 mission, NASA astronauts Stephen Bowen and Warren Hoburg, United Arab Emirates astronaut Sultan Alneyadi, and Roscosmos cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev will arrive aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule on Tuesday for a six-month stay.

The launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida will take place early on Monday morning and you can watch a live stream of the event on NASA’s YouTube channel.

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