Running more than 30 minutes ahead of schedule, the SpaceX Crew-3 astronauts docked to the International Space Station at 5:32 p.m. CST Nov. 11, less than 24 hours after launching from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.
NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn, and Kayla Barron, and European Space Agency astronaut Matthias Maurer opened the hatch of their Crew Dragon spacecraft Endurance at 7:25 and participated in a welcome ceremony with their new Expedition 66 crewmates at 8.
On board to welcome them were fellow astronaut Mark Vande Hei, Expedition 66 Commander Anton Shkaplerov and Flight Engineer Pyotr Dubrov of Roscosmos. Joining the welcome ceremony from Earth were Kathy Lueders, NASA associate administrator for Space Operations, and Josef Aschbacher, European Space Agency director-general.
The Crew Dragon launched atop SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at 8:03 p.m. Nov. 10.
“NASA’s partnership with SpaceX is not only critical for cutting-edge research, but also for international collaboration,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said. “The space station brings together nations around the world for the benefit of all.”
During their six-month stay aboard the orbiting laboratory, Chari, Marshburn, Barron, and Maurer will join the Expedition 66 crew in conducting a number of science and research investigations. Some of these include a food physiology experiment that will study the impacts of an enhanced spaceflight diet on astronaut health, a sensor that will test a set of LED beacons with which Astrobee free-flying robots will interact during formation flight maneuvers, and a Human Research Program project that will collect a set of core measurements related to human spaceflight risks from astronauts before, during, and after long-duration missions.
The Payload Operations Integration Center at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center is the agency’s primary space station science command post. The payload operations team coordinates all U.S., European, Japanese, and Canadian scientific and commercial experiments on the station, synchronizes payload activities of international partners, and directs communications between station crew members and researchers around the world.
Crew-3 is the third of six crew rotation missions NASA and SpaceX will fly as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. This is the first flight for Chari, Barron, and Maurer, and the third for Marshburn, who flew on STS-127 and Expedition 34/35.
The commercial crew team at Marshall, led by Steve Gaddis, has a long working relationship with SpaceX, having worked with the commercial partner to improve safety and reliability of the Merlin engines, stage propulsion, Draco and SuperDraco thrusters, the abort and flight termination systems, structures, materials and processes, fracture control, and integrated performance analyses.
“Our team members did an excellent job supporting the Crew-3 mission,” Gaddis said. “Even though they made it look easy, our crew worked many challenging issues over the last four months to help ensure mission success. Their attitudes and teamwork were amazing!”