NASA's oldest active astronaut will return to space for a six-month mission in September.

Don Pettit, 69, will fly to the International Space Station (ISS) as a part of the Roscosmos-led Soyuz MS-26 mission, which includes Russian cosmonauts Alexey Ovchinin and Ivan Vagner. 

Russian state media source TASS said this week that the launch date will be on Sept. 11. The NASA astronaut's assignment, announced in May, will see Pettit make his fourth journey to space to add on to 370 days accumulated days in orbit. His previous missions included Expedition 6 in 2003, the short-duration space shuttle mission STS-126 in 2008, and Expedition 30/31 in 2012. 

The launch of MS-26 will also be Ovchinin's third flight, after Expeditions 47/48 and Expeditions 59/60, and Vagner's second after Expedition 62/63.

Pettit's Expedition 6 mission was unexpectedly extended in orbit. He and the rest of the crew launched on space shuttle Endeavour along with mission STS-113 on Nov. 24, 2002. Less than three months later, tragedy struck. The Columbia space shuttle broke up during reentry on Feb. 1, 2003, killing seven astronauts. Expedition 6 was unable to come back to Earth aboard shuttle Discovery, as planned.

NASA grounded its shuttle fleet for two years to investigate the cause of the accident and make remedies. While factors such as schedule pressure were cited in the Columbia Accident Investigation Board's six-volume report, the primary cause of the disaster was damage caused by a piece of foam falling from a strut onto the shuttle's external tank, which damaged the spacecraft wing and made it vulnerable during the heat of re-entry. 

Source: www.space.com


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