And Crew-2 Makes 11

And Crew-2 Makes 11

Four astronauts from three countries docked with the International Space Station (ISS) today bringing the total number of people aboard up to 11 instead of the usual seven. The full house is only temporary. Four will return home on Wednesday.

NASA’s Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s (JAXA’s) Aki Hoshide, and the European Space Agency’s (ESA’s) Thomas Pesquet, who is French, docked with ISS at 5:08 am ET this morning, just 23 hours after launching from the Kennedy Space Center in their SpaceX Crew Dragon Endeavour.

Their mission is designated Crew-2, the second operational flight of Crew Dragon. Crew-1 launched in November and those four astronauts will return to Earth in four days after a handover period. NASA’s Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker and JAXA’s Soichi Noguchi are scheduled to undock at 7:05 am ET on Wednesday and splash down in the Atlantic Ocean near Tallahassee, FL at 12:40 pm ET.

The ISS is undergoing a routine crew rotation, but it is unusual to have so many people aboard at once. Crews also come and go on Russian Soyuz spacecraft. The Soyuz MS-17 crew returned to Earth last week a few days after their replacements arrived on Soyuz MS-18. The crew size temporarily grew to 10 during that transition until Soyuz MS-17 departed.

The three Soyuz MS-18 crew members, Oleg Novitsky and Pyotr Dubrov from Roscosmos and Mark Vande Hei from NASA, joined Crew-1 in welcoming Crew-2 this morning.

The crews of NASA/SpaceX Crew-1 (in front with blue shirts), NASA/SpaceX Crew-2 (black shirts), and Roscosmos Soyuz MS-18 (in back with blue shirts) as Crew-2 arrives on the International Space Station, April 24, 2021. L-R, front row: Michael Hopkins (NASA), Soichi Noguchi (JAXA), Aki Hoshide (JAXA), Shane Kimbrough (NASA), Thomas Pesquet (ESA/France), Megan McArthur (NASA), Shannon Walker (NASA), and Victor Glover (NASA).  Second row: Mark Vande Hei (NASA), Oleg Novitsky (Roscosmos), Pyotr Dubrov (Roscosmos). Walker is currently ISS Commander. Screengrab.

During their trip to ISS the crew had to quickly don their spacesuits and lower their visors when a piece of space debris came close enough to worry ground controllers.  Experts have been warning for years about the dangers posed by the growing amount of space debris  — dead satellites or pieces thereof — in low Earth orbit. The ISS itself has had to move to avoid potential collisions. Then-NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine tweeted on September 22, 2020 that ISS had to maneuver out of harm’s way three times in 2020 alone. Thankfully in this case the debris passed by without incident and Crew Dragon Endeavour autonomously docked with ISS on schedule.  UPDATE, APRIL 25:  U.S. Space Command, whose 18th Space Control Squadron tracks objects in orbit and calculates possible “conjunctions,” said today that in fact there never was a collision threat. The warning to the crew was based on an “inaccurate report.” 

This is the first time two Crew Dragons are docked at the ISS simultaneously.  Also docked are Russia’s Soyuz MS-18 crew spacecraft, two Russian cargo spacecraft (Progress 75 and Progress 77 in NASA lingo, though they are formally Progress MS-14 and Progress MS-16), and the U.S./Northrop Grumman cargo spacecraft Cygnus-15.

NASA illustration of where crew and cargo vehicles are docked to the International Space Station as of April 24, 2021.

The crew got a splendid view of their home for the next six months as Endeavour closed in for docking.  Crew-1’s white Crew Dragon Resilience is visible in the video below at the top of the screen docked just feet away from Endeavour’s port.

SpaceX’s Crew Dragons are reusable and this is Endeavour’s second trip. It was used for the Demo-2 flight demonstration last summer, taking Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to and from the ISS. Behnken is married to Megan McArthur, the pilot of Crew-2, so both got to fly the very same spaceship.

NASA’s space shuttle orbiters and Solid Rocket Boosters also were reusable. The Discovery orbiter flew 39 times over 27 years.

The ISS is a partnership among the United States, Russia, Canada, Japan, and 11 European countries working through ESA. Astronauts and cosmonauts from all those countries have been members of ISS “expeditions” over the past 20 years of permanent occupancy.

The last time NASA, Roscosmos, JAXA and ESA had crew members on ISS at the same time was in 2009, when a Canadian was also aboard. The crew for the first three months of Expedition 20 (May-July 2009) was comprised of Michael Barratt (NASA), Robert Thirsk (Canadian Space Agency), Frank de Winne (ESA), Koichi Wakata (JAXA), and Gennady Padalka and Roman Romanenko of Roscosmos.

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