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Space station astronauts' patchwork path to spending a year in orbit

July 17, 2013 — By the numbers, there are 24 crew members and 621 days until two people take up residency on the International Space Station for a full year.

By the artwork, there are eight mission patches.

Currently staffed by its 36th expedition crew, the International Space Station will host its first yearlong residents — Scott Kelly of NASA and Mikhail Korniyenko of Roscosmos — starting in March 2015. Before they arrive and begin their stay as members of the Expedition 43 crew, the space station will see seven expeditions come and go in three-to-six month increments.

NASA, its international partners, and their crew members have provided a "colorful calendar" of sorts leading up to the start of the yearlong mission in the form of the official mission emblems that represent the Expedition 36 through Expedition 43 crews. Created with the input from the astronauts and cosmonauts, each insignia symbolizes the half-year missions and the multi-national crew members who will carry them out.

Mission patches have been a long-held tradition in space. The International Space Station has taken the art form to a new level, as artists from around the world have contributed to designing the expedition emblems. As seen below, they can be as varied in character and style as the crew members they represent.

Insignia artwork credit: NASA
Expedition 36      May through September 2013 (now in space)
Crew members: Commander Pavel Vinogradov and flight engineers Aleksandr Misurkin, Chris Cassidy, Karen Nyberg, Fyodor Yurchikhin and Luca Parmitano

About the emblem: The dynamic design of the Expedition 36 patch portrays the International Space Station's (ISS) iconic solar arrays. The slanted angles denote a kinetic energy leading from the Earth in the lower right to the upper left tip of the triangular shape of the patch, representing the infinite scientific research, education, and long-duration spaceflight capabilities the ISS provides with each mission, as well as our goal for future exploration beyond the Space Station. The numbers 3 and 6 harmoniously intertwine to form expedition number 36 and its gray coloration signifies the unity and neutrality among all of the international partners of the ISS. The blue and gold color scheme of the patch represents the subtle way the central gold orbit wraps around the number 36 to form a trident at its lower right tip. The trident also symbolizes the sea, air, and land, all of which make up the Earth from where the trident originates in the design.

Expedition 37      September through November 2013
Crew members: Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin and flight engineers Karen Nyberg, Luca Parmitano, Oleg Kotov, Sergey Ryzansky and Michael Hopkins

About the emblem: Leonardo da Vinci's Vitruvian Man, created some 525 years ago, as a blend of art and science and a symbol of the medical profession, is depicted amongst the orbits of a variety of satellites circling the Earth at great speed. Da Vinci's drawing, based on the proportions of man as described by the Roman architect Vitruvius, is often used as a symbol of symmetry of the human body and the universe as a whole. Almost perfect in symmetry as well, the International Space Station, with its solar wings spread out and illuminated by the first rays of dawn, is pictured as a mighty beacon arcing upwards across our night skies, the ultimate symbol of science and technology of our age. Six stars represent the six members of Expedition 37 crew, which includes two cosmonauts with a medical background, as well as a native of Da Vinci's Italy.

Expedition 38      November 2013 through March 2014
Crew members: Commander Oleg Kotov and flight engineers Sergey Ryzansky, Michael Hopkins, Koichi Wakata, Richard Mastracchio and Mikhail Tyurin

About the emblem: As the International Space Station (ISS) has become a stepping stone to future space exploration, the Expedition 38 mission patch design paints a visual roadmap of exploration beyond low Earth orbit, most prominently represented by the design's flowing Expedition 38 mission numbers that wrap around Earth, the moon and Mars. Just as the sun is a guiding light in the galaxy, the ISS illuminates the bottom of the design as it is a shining beacon of the advancement of science, knowledge, and technology carried out aboard the Space Station. To visually capture the idea of the ISS being a foundation for infinite discovery, the space station's iconic solar arrays span upwards, providing the number 38 and its exploration roadmap a symbolic pedestal to rest on. Finally, the overall use of red, white, and blue in the design acknowledges the flags of the countries of origin for Expedition 38's crew — the United States, Russia, and Japan.

Expedition 39      March through May 2014
Crew members: Commander Koichi Wakata and flight engineers Rick Mastracchio, Mikhail Tyurin, Steve Swanson, Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev

About the emblem: Increment 39 of the International Space Station Program marks the 15th year of operation since the start of the space laboratory assembly. Today, the U.S., Russia, Japan, Canada and the European Space Agency are partnering in the operation of the largest ever orbital outpost managed by humankind. The names of the six crew members are depicted in their native languages. For Expedition 39, the Soyuz spacecraft serves as transport vehicle for the crew members to and from the station. During this expedition, the ISS will serve as a platform for scientific research, Earth and astronomical observation, education, as well as a stage for the development of new technologies used for the exploration beyond low Earth orbit. The star above the complex signifies human space exploration towards new frontiers. The crew members added these words: "The crew of Expedition 39 is proud to serve the international community in furthering our scientific knowledge and in expanding human presence in space."

Expedition 40      May through September 2014
Crew members: Commander Steve Swanson and flight engineers Alexander Skvortsov, Oleg Artemyev, Reid Wiseman, Maxim Suraev and Alexander Gerst

About the emblem: The Expedition 40 patch depicts the past, present, and future of human space exploration. The crew wrote the description that follows: The reliable and proven Soyuz, our ride to the International Space Station (ISS), is a part of the past, present, and future. The ISS is the culmination of an enormous effort by many countries partnering to produce a first-class orbiting laboratory, and its image represents the current state of space exploration. The ISS is immensely significant to us as our home away from home and our oasis in the sky. The commercial cargo vehicle is also part of the current human space exploration and is a link to the future. A blend of legacy and future technologies is being used to create the next spacecrafts which will carry humans from our planet to destinations beyond. The sun on Earth's horizon represents the new achievements and technologies that will come about due to our continued effort in space exploration.

Expedition 41      September through November 2014
Crew members: Commander Maxim Suraev and flight engineers Reid Wiseman, Alexander Gerst, Barry Wilmore, Yelena Serova and Alexander Samoukutyaev

About the emblem: Portraying the road of human exploration into our vastly unknown universe, all elements of the Expedition 41 patch build from the foundation, our Earth, to the stars beyond our solar system. The focus of our six-month expedition to the International Space Station (ISS) is the Earth and its inhabitants as well as a scientific look out into our universe. The distinguishing ISS solar arrays reach onward and serve as the central element, with the icon of an atom underneath representing the multitude of research onboard that will bring new discoveries for the benefit of humanity. The Sun is rising over Earth's horizon, spreading its light along the road of human exploration. Equipped with the knowledge and inspiration gained from ISS, our successful multinational cooperation will lead human space exploration to the Moon, Mars, and ultimately, the stars.

Expedition 42      November 2014 through March 2015
Crew members: Commander Barry Wilmore and flight engineers Yelena Serova, Alexander Samoukutyaev, Anton Shkaplerov, Terry Virts and Samantha Cristoforetti

About the emblem: The rectangular-shaped design portrays the International Space Station orbiting planet Earth with its solar array wings spread wide. Facing the sun with the lower left outboard solar array feathered, the left array portrays a prominent number "4" and the fully deployed arrays on the right form the Roman numeral version of "2," which signifies the two increment crews which, together, comprise the six-member international Expedition "42" crew. The crew and all supporting personnel around the world are also represented by the six stars adorning the sky around the complex.

Expedition 43      March through May 2015
Crew members: Commander Terry Virts and flight engineers Anton Shkaplerov, Samantha Cristoforetti, Yury Lonchakov, Scott Kelly and Mikhail Kornienko

About the emblem: The hexagon (six-sided) shape of the Expedition 43 patch represents the six crew members living and working onboard the orbital outpost. The International Space Station (ISS) is portrayed in orbit around the Earth, representing the multi-national partnership that has constructed, developed, and continues to operate the ISS for the benefit of all humankind. The sunrise marks the beginning of a new day, reflecting the fact that we're at the dawn of our history as a space faring species. The moon and planets represent future exploration of our solar system, for which the ISS is a stepping stone. Finally, the five stars honor the crews who have lost their lives during the pursuit of human spaceflight.

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