A used SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule carrying four astronauts to the International Space Station as part of the company's Crew-2 mission docked successfully at the orbiting lab early Saturday (April 24).
The Crew Dragon Endeavour, which launched SpaceX's first crewed flight for NASA in May 2020, linked up with the station's U.S. built Harmony module at 5:08 a.m. EDT (0908 GMT) as both spacecraft sailed 264 miles above the Indian Ocean.
The spacecraft launched from pad 039A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida Friday (April 23). The Crew Dragon spacecraft previously carried NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station (ISS) as part of SpaceX's Demo-2 test flight. This flight is the first time that a SpaceX Crew Dragon vehicle was reused for a launch and the first time that two Crew Dragon vehicles are docked at the station at the same time.
Arriving at the ISS on Endeavour today were four veteran spaceflyers: NASA astronauts Megan McArthur and Shane Kimbrough, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Akihiko Hoshide and European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Thomas Pesquet.
The four astronauts arrived safely at the station about 23 hours after their successful launch, ready to begin their mission in space. They're expected to open the hatches between their Crew Dragon and the station at 7:15 a.m. EDT (1115 GMT).
"We're so excited to be here, we're ready to get to work," McArthur told acting NASA chief Steve Jurczyk after entering the station.
The flight to the International Space Station wasn't entirely smooth. As the astronauts were preparing for sleep on Friday, SpaceX flight controllers called up to warm them of a possible space junk collision hazard.
"For awareness, we have identified a late breaking possible conjunction with a fairly close miss distance to Dragon," SpaceX capsule communicator Sarah Gilles told the astronauts at 1:24 p.m. EDT, according to CBS News. "As such, we do need you to immediately proceed with suit donning and securing yourselves in seats. We will be erring on the side of caution to get you guys into a better configuration."
The Crew-2 astronauts put their SpaceX pressure suits and helmets on and returned to their seats as directed, but the debris ultimately passed by the Crew Dragon capsule without incident.
After a successful docking, the seven-person crew of Expedition 65 — including the four SpaceX Crew-1 astronauts who arrived at the ISS in November — met the new station residents, helping them aboard. With the new crew arrival, there will be 11 astronauts on the station for a few days, until the four Crew-1 astronauts return to Earth in their Crew Dragon, named Resilience, on Wednesday (April 28).
.@AstroVicGlover, @Astro_Soichi and Shannon Walker look excited to welcome the Crew-2 astronauts on board the ISS early tomorrow morning: pic.twitter.com/yfAuHEPH4rApril 23, 2021
The Crew-1 astronauts prepared for the handoff period and for the arrival of Crew-2 by relocating their Crew Dragon to a different docking port, making room for the incoming spacecraft. This followed a similar maneuver on March 19, when astronauts on the space station relocated the Russian Soyuz MS-17 spacecraft, which also made room for new crewmembers.
The station residents also prepared for the new arrivals by building extra beds, making sure that the astronauts arriving at the station have a place to sleep. Typically only three to six astronauts inhabit the ISS at a time, so some makeshift crew quarters were needed to support the unusually large group of residents.
"Our friends on the @Space_Station are expecting us to show up and we don't want to be late. They even installed my bedroom recently and literally made my bed. Such nice hosts!" Pesquet tweeted along with images of the space station crew preparing for Crew-2's arrival.
Still, with so many astronauts living on the station, two astronauts (the two Crew Dragon commanders, NASA astronauts Mike Hopkins and Kimbrough) will sleep in their respective Crew Dragon capsules. This temporary "camping" situation, as it has been described, will end when the Crew-1 astronauts climb back aboard their Crew Dragon and return to Earth on April 28.
It seems the weather is cooperating, so looks like we will try to launch tomorrow!!! Our friends on the @Space_Station are expecting us to show up and we don’t want to be late. They even installed my bedroom recently and literally made my bed 🛏. Such nice hosts! 🙏 #MissionAlpha pic.twitter.com/52X2bhPoTXApril 22, 2021
Of the 11 people on board, nine are in the U.S. segment of the space station, which has four sleeping quarters for astronauts. With the two commanders out in their Dragons, that leaves three people needing a place to sleep: Crew-1 astronauts Soichi Noguchi of JAXA, and Shannon Walker and Victor Glover of NASA. "They'll be in the gym, the Columbus [module] and the airlock, respectively," NASA Public Affairs Officer Marie Lewis said during the live launch broadcast. "So, you could say it's quite a full house. They'll be camping out rolling out sleeping bags on rack fronts."
The four new residents of the orbiting outpost will spend the next six months working and living in space. They will work on more than 200 science experiments, conduct spacewalks and more during their time at the station, which orbits about 250 miles (400 kilometers) above the Earth.
SpaceX's next crewed mission to the space station will be Crew-3, which is currently set to lift off Oct. 23. However, if SpaceX stays on schedule, the Crew-3 launch will be preceded by Inspiration4, the first-ever all-civilian crewed space mission, which is set to launch four space tourists on a three-day orbital mission on a Crew Dragon spacecraft no earlier than Sept. 15.
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