The United States reemerged as a space power with human spaceflight capabilities in 2020 thanks to SpaceX. Ever since, SpaceX has launched rotational crewed missions to the International Space Station (ISS) as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Currently, there are 11 people at the orbiting laboratory and 8 are astronauts managed by NASA, SpaceX, and Houston-based company Axiom Space. The crew aboard the station are: Russian cosmonauts Oleg Artemyev, Denis Matveev, and Sergey Korsakov; SpaceX Crew-3 NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Kayla Barron, Matthias Maurer, and Thomas Marshburn, who is serving as ISS Expedition 67 commander; as well as Axiom Mission AX-1 crew Mark Pathy, Eytan Stibbe, Larry Conner, and Michael Lopez-Alegria. Axiom Space AX-1 crew are the first all-private astronauts to visit the Space Station. They were launched aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon Endeavour by a flight-proven Falcon 9 rocket on April 8 from the Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Pad-39A.
Axiom's AX-1 crew purchased a 10-day space tour to conduct science research at the ISS and enjoy incredible views of Earth from orbit, however, unfavorable weather delayed their return by a couple of days. NASA set a new date to return the AX-1 quartet from the ISS; they are scheduled to undock from the ISS Harmony module at 8:35 p.m. EDT on Saturday, April 23. Crew Dragon Endeavour will splashdown off the coast of Florida about 1:46 p.m. by Sunday, April 24. “The decision was made based on the best weather for splashdown of the first private astronaut mission to visit the International Space Station and the return trajectory required to bring the crew and the SpaceX Dragon Endeavour spacecraft back to Earth safely,” said NASA in a press release. “[...] There are sufficient provisions for all 11 crew members aboard the space station. The Ax-1 crew continues to work through previously planned mission activities. The Ax-1 crew and Dragon spacecraft remain healthy,” the agency assured.
NASA also announced it plans to launch the fourth operational Commercial Crew, Crew-4, to the Space Station after Endeavour undocks. Crew-4’s launch depends on AX-1 returning so that Crew Dragon Freedom can dock on the same port. The potential launch opportunity for the Crew-4 mission is 4:15 a.m. Tuesday, April 26, with additional opportunities Wednesday, April 27, and Thursday, April 28. “These launch opportunities are undergoing a more detailed program review to ensure they align with integrated operational timelines,” said NASA representatives. “The teams want to provide a two-day gap after Ax-1 return for data reviews from splashdown and to prepare for the Crew-4 launch, including the staging of recovery assets.”
Crew-4 crew members are: Crew-4 Commander NASA astronaut Kjell Lindgren, NASA Pilot Robert Hines with NASA Mission Specialist Jessica Watkins, and European Space Agency Italian astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti. They completed a dry dress rehearsal this week and are ready for liftoff. A few days after Crew-4 arrives at the Space Station, Crew-3 astronauts will undock to return aboard Crew Dragon Endurance. NASA has not established a return date for Crew-3 but they are already preparing their capsule and packing science research to bring back to Earth. NASA will broadcast all missions Live via YouTube linked in the video below. NASA TV schedule is in Eastern Time [all dates are subject to change].
NASA TV Schedule
April 22, Friday
10 a.m. – NASA Administrator briefing for the SpaceX/Crew-4 launch.
April 23, Saturday
1:45 a.m. – Coverage of the launch of the SpaceX/Crew-4 Mission to the International Space Station (Lindgren, Hines, Watkins, Cristoforetti). Launch scheduled at 5:26 a.m. EDT; coverage continues through docking, hatch opening and the welcoming ceremony.
7 a.m. – SpaceX/Crew-4 post-launch news conference (time subject to change)
6:15 p.m. – SpaceX/Axiom-1 Crew Dragon hatch closing (hatch closing scheduled at 6:30 p.m. EDT) – Johnson Space Center/Hawthorne, Calif.
8:15 p.m. – SpaceX/Axiom-1 Crew Dragon undocking from the International Space Station (Undocking scheduled at 8:35 p.m. EDT; coverage concludes after Crew Dragon departs the ISS Approach Ellipsoid area) – Johnson Space Center/Hawthorne, Calif.
April 24, Sunday
6 a.m. – Coverage of the docking of the SpaceX/Crew Dragon and Crew-4 to the International Space Station
7:50 a.m. – Coverage of the hatch opening and welcoming ceremony for the SpaceX/Crew-4 crew on the International Space Station
April 26, Tuesday
9:10 a.m. – ISS Expedition 67 in-flight event for ESA (European Space Agency) with ESA astronauts Matthias Maurer and Samantha Cristoforetti
WATCH IT LIVE!
Featured Images Source: NASA & SpaceX