For the first time in a decade, the International Space Station (ISS) will have only three astronauts working there for six months.
At the moment, there are six astronauts living and working on the ISS, about 408 km from the ground. Soon, loneliness will beset here. The delay in the construction of the new spacecraft to send astronauts into space makes the next three astronauts preparing to ISS in April 2020 will be here for 6 months.
This is also the first time ISS has had only three 'permanent residents' since 2009, when it was renovated and expanded to meet more working and living conditions. The next three astronauts were sent to the ISS in a Soyuz spacecraft: Chris Cassidy (USA), Nikolai Tikhonov and Andrei Babkin (Russia).
Since the end of the US space shuttle project in 2011, all flights carrying astronauts to the ISS have been carried out by Russian-made spacecraft, each with 3 people. The Soyuz is attached to the ISS like a lifeboat as the crew's ground vehicle.
ISS space station is considered "United Nations in space".(Image: Getty)
Three new astronauts will arrive a few weeks later. Therefore, in addition to the short intervals when crew members are changed, there are usually six US and Russian astronauts on the ISS.
This process has been in operation for almost a decade. But NASA decided to sign a contract with SpaceX and Boeing to launch a spacecraft to take the crew to ISS from 2020 instead of using the Soyuz.
But commercial space ship development was delayed when Boeing had trouble with the parachute system, while SpaceX's Space Dragon Crew spacecraft exploded during testing.
In 2010, when it was about to close its space shuttle program, NASA signed a contract with trading companies worth 50 million dollars to design spacecraft. But the ships must pass strict safety tests before being used. So, NASA decided the next group of astronauts would only have 3 people living and working on the ISS.
The Crew Dragon spacecraft unexpectedly exploded during a test on April 20, 2019.(Photo: Slashgear).
Over the years, ISS expedition experiments have been important in space exploration. Previous missions have shown the effect of microgravity on the human body and the origin of cosmic rays.
But if the crew had to maintain the station, such a 'thin' crew would have less time for other research activities. Ruediger Seine, head of the space training team at ESA's European Space Travel Center, said most experiments can be conducted from the ground.
Space agencies conducting experiments will have to choose which projects are most effective with limited crew time, and cancel or pause studies that are too human-dependent.
Fewer crew members means more information resources to share. ISS itself is divided into two sides: Russia and USA. Russians often operate separately from the United States, Europe, Japan and Canada.
However with only 3 people on board, they have to work more cohesively. With only one American, two Russians were forced to learn how to use American equipment. For example, each side has its own space suit, but astronauts must learn how to use both.
In addition, the three astronauts will suffer mental stress at work besides loneliness. Not only adapting new situations in space, astronauts are struggling with the risk of anxiety and depression.
ISS astronauts are always busy with experiments but will still have the opportunity to interact with each other. They try to have at least one meal a day as well as communicate with friends and family.
Besides the pressure of work, homesickness is always a constant in every ISS astronaut.(Photo: NASA).
Michael Lopez-Alegria, who has been on the longest American space station to date, went to ISS in 2006. He was there with two others, but did not feel too lonely during the mission.
'I like a team with fewer people, because we tend to be more cohesive. There will be cultural differences when there are many people. We have a Russian, me and the third one are German or American, so we often spend more time together. '
Lopez-Alegria admits watching the Earth from the window helps him to be homesick. In 2010, an observation module was added to the ISS to create a larger window, helping astronauts to reduce the psychological pressure load.