Travel to and from the International Space Station occurs with such regularity these days, it hardly seems worth remarking. The only exception is when things go wrong, as with the recent case of the errant Russian Soyuz cargo spacecraft (which fortunately had no people aboard). Indeed, it’s easy to forget that every single voyage up to the 925,000-pound, football-field-sized station circling high above us in lower Earth orbit takes an extraordinary amount of mechanical precision and human skill.
It also takes a not-insignificant chunk of Earth time: six hours from launch to docking in the case of the Soyuz that traveled to the station on March 27 with three astronauts in tow. For two of those riders–Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko–the trip marked the beginning of their record setting, year-long stay.
But you can begin to appreciate the magnitude of the task in this mesmerizing new video NASA released today, showing the last 30 minutes of that voyage to the station from the viewpoint of the incoming Soyuz. The video shows the sprawling ISS glimmering in the sunlight as it looms into view. With a cloudy Earth in the background, the only sound is the steady hum of the docking equipment working.
The entire process seems slow but strangely serene, almost like a ballet, with the only quick motion in view a tiny spinning antenna that is part of the Soyuz’s KURS docking system. The entire scene is downright Kubrickian. And for those who really want to appreciate the majesty of what’s become a routine process, NASA also posted a hi-res version of the video here.