Appearances can be deceptive. These aren’t Jedi masters, but the crew of Expedition 45 due to begin their one-year trip to the International Space Station. Later this year, Russian cosmonauts Oleg Kononenko, Mikhail Kornienko and Sergei Volkov, Japanese astronaut Kimiya Yui of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and NASA astronauts Kjell Lindgren, and Scott Kelly will make the incredible journey for the longest stay on the ISS to date.
The Star Wars style expedition poster was released by NASA on February 12. Over the years, NASA has referenced and spoofed popular culture in official expedition portraits. Harry Potter, Star Trek, the Beatles, even Pirates of the Caribbean and Gangnam Style – have all been immortalized in ISS crew posters. The current crew, Expedition 42, chose The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy as the theme for its official poster, complete with the words “Don’t Panic” in large friendly letters at the bottom.
But there’s serious work to be done on board the space station, which will include observations and tests on the effects of a long-term stay in space on the human body. While Expedition 45 will notch up the longest stay on the ISS, the record for the longest stay in space was set by cosmonaut Valery Polyakov, who spent 438 days on board the Soviet space station Mir in 1994-5. That record will remain unbroken for now.
The crew recognize the importance of the mission to future plans as manned flights to the planets are on the horizon. At a press conference in December 2014, Kelly said: “We’re going to go to Mars some day [and] the International Space Station is really a great platform to learn much more about having people live and work in space for longer durations….This one year flight is one of the many stepping stones towards leaving low Earth orbit.”
And in an earlier interview, cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko put this in context: “As to the International Space Station, it’s a priceless experiment in international cooperation. We are learning to work together, and in my opinion the next step is interplanetary exploration of space, the moon or Mars. As [Konstantin] Tsiolkovsky said, the Russian space scientist, the humankind cannot stay in the cradle forever, so we have to leave Earth, and the function of the ISS is to learn as much as we can about life in space. And from orbital flights to the station we will proceed to interplanetary flights, first probably a base on the moon and then the flight to Mars, and of course it will have to be a joint effort of many countries. It’s impossible to do it with one country alone, and the experience from international cooperation on the ISS will be very important here.”