Astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) captured the crewed Soyuz spacecraft firing thrusters and spewing cryogenic snow into space as it docked with the ISS last week, a scene befitting of a Star Wars space maneuver.
NASA astronaut Randy Bresnik tweeted out a video of the July 28 event, which can be watched below. Bresnik praises the piloting of Russian Soyuz Commander Sergey Ryazanskiy, who carefully unites the pointed nose of the Soyuz spacecraft with the ISS’s docking port.
“Docking two spaceships is essentially an orbital ballet culminating in a collision,” wrote Bresnik.
These docking maneuvers have become commonplace, but a screen full of blasting thrusters and chunks of cryogenic snow is a vivid reminder of how extreme the space procedure truly is. This docking occurred while both spacecraft were racing around Earth at 17,150 miles per hour.
Until SpaceX and Boeing complete their respective crew modules — which are both slated to launch in 2018 — the only way any human can travel into space is aboard the Soyuz spacecraft and accompanying rocket.
NASA currently pays Russia some $70 to $80 million per seat on the Soyuz. This might be costly, but it comes with an impeccable record of safety and success. Russian engineers designed and first launched the Soyuz in the mid-1960s. After two fatal incidents soon after its inception, the craft has performed safely for nearly 50 years, both launching astronauts into space and bringing them home.
When the SpaceX Dragon and Boeing Starliner come online next year, NASA estimates that the price per seat will be a bit cheaper than a trip upon a trusty Soyuz rocket, at $58 million.
For now, there is a Soyuz spacecraft attached to the ISS at all times to serve as a “lifeboat.” If the ISS experiences an emergency — say the station gets pummeled by an unforeseen asteroid chunk or wayward satellite — astronauts can flee from the station via the Soyuz.
Such a dramatic evacuation would likely be as Star Wars-like as the docking, complete with blasting thrusters and a violent descent to Earth.