According to the Denver Post, among the "Christmas presents" shipped to the ISS via SpaceX's Dragon capsule NASA supposedly also sent a copy of the newly released Star Wars: The Last Jedi movie, "as a special holiday treat for the astronauts."
The Dragon spacecraft will spend the next month at the ISS, returning to Earth in mid-January with another precious cargo. Since Dragon is the only supply ship able to carry back experiments from the ISS, the spacecraft will be returning home with "more than 3,600 pounds of research, hardware and crew supplies," NASA informs.
This successful second delivery to the orbiting laboratory will get the ball rolling for NASA's Expedition 54, especially since its crew is about to be replenished.
Just a few hours before Acaba and Vande Hei intercepted the Dragon capsule on Sunday, three new crewmembers of Expedition 54 set out on their journey to the ISS aboard a Soyuz spacecraft.
NASA's Scott "Maker" Tingle, Roscosmos' Anton Shkaplerov, and Norishige "Neemo" Kanai of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) are currently on their way to the space station, where they will be joining Acaba and Vande Hei, as well as Expedition 54 commander Alexander Misurkin of Roscosmos, as flight engineers.
The trio launched from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan at 2:21 a.m. EST (0721 GMT) and will spend about two days in Earth orbit before docking with the ISS's Rassvet module on Tuesday (December 19).
The docking is scheduled to take place at 3:43 a.m. EST (0843 GMT) and will be streamed on NASA TV, the space agency disclosed in a news release. The coverage is set to begin as early as 3 a.m., the highlight being the 5 a.m. broadcast of the opening of hatches between the Soyuz spacecraft and the ISS.
The arrival of the three astronauts will bring up the number of the ISS crewmembers back to six, after Expedition 53 commander Randy Bresnik of NASA and flight engineers Paolo Nespoli of the European Space Agency and Sergey Ryazanskiy of Roscosmos returned to Earth on December 14. (Yes, these are the brave souls that earlier this month made pizza in space, on top of other impressive achievements, such as Bresnik's three spacewalks and Nespoli's footage of a "fireball" meteor in November.)
Tingle, Shkaplerov, and Kanai will be spending more than four months on the ISS until their homecoming in April, whereas Vande Hei, Acaba, and Misurkin will be staying aboard the space station until February 2018, NASA points out.
The United States is thereby extending once again the number of its astronauts aboard the space station, from three to four, after Russia's decision to limit Roscosmos' participation on the ISS. This long-term increase in NASA crew size, which started with the members of Expedition 53, will allow the space agency "to maximize time dedicated to research on the space station," NASA specified in the news release.
Expedition 54 will be involved in about 250 scientific experiments, including the design and manufacture of optic fiber filaments (for which the research materials have just been delivered via SpaceX's Dragon capsule), as well as the investigation of a new drug against muscular breakdown, International Business Times notes.
This potential new treatment would become useful not only on the ISS but also back home since it is intended to fight the muscular breakdown experienced both in space and during "extended bed rest on Earth," shows NASA.