In July 2019, ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano is scheduled to fly to the International Space Station for his second mission, Beyond. This follows on from his first mission, Volare, in 2013 during which he spent 166 days in space and personally conducted over 20 experiments on Station. This time, Luca will share a Soyuz with Russian cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov and NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan. During the second part of his mission, Luca will fulfil the role of International Space Station commander for Expedition 61.
ESA astronaut Luca Parmitano is once again at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan preparing to fly to the International Space Station (ISS), only this time he hopes to remain on the ground.
A rare treat: while serving as backups for Exp.59, we got to see our spacecraft, Soyuz MS13 (n°746), being built and prepped for our flight. Couldn’t resist touching it for good luck! pic.twitter.com/gyr7WqNsnk
— Luca Parmitano (@astro_luca) February 27, 2019
As backup crew for the launch of Soyuz MS-12 scheduled for Thursday 14 March 2019 (UTC), Luca and his crewmates Russian cosmonaut Alexander Skvortsov and NASA astronaut Andrew Morgan have been training alongside the prime crew of Russian cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin and NASA astronauts Christina Hammock-Koch and Nick Hague.
In the unlikely event that a prime crew member is unable to fly, the ISS Multilateral Crew Operations Panel (MCOP), made up of representatives from all international partners, evaluates the possible backup scenarios. Where possible, they seek to replace single crew members, but closer to the launch the Soyuz commander and left seat positions must be exchanged together to ensure smooth Soyuz operations.
While in Baikonur, the backup crew follow much the same schedule as prime crew members. They are involved in all the pre-launch traditions and undertake a period of quarantine, just as they would ahead of spaceflight.
As the launch date draws closer, the role of the backup crew is more geared toward supporting prime crew members with their pre-flight activities as it becomes less and less likely they will fly themselves.
This is the third time Luca has been a backup crew member and the fourth time he has been part of a launch campaign in Baikonur. The first time was in 2012 when he backed up Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield and the crew of Expedition 34.
Luca flew his first mission to the International Space Station in 2013 and will return to the Cosmodrome as a prime crew member in July this year, alongside Alexander and Drew, for his next mission: Beyond.
For ESA astronauts who have not flown before, the experience of being a backup crew member is beneficial for both them and their families. In these cases, ESA invites the astronaut’s spouse to fly to the launch site to participate in pre-launch events. This helps ease their nerves and provides an idea of what to expect when it comes time for the astronaut’s mission.
As for Luca, he is well versed in what to awaits him over the next few days. As soon as the crew is launched, he will return to a busy training schedule in preparation for his own launch and a mission in which he will become Europe’s third ever International Space Station commander.