Crew-6 Reaches International Space Station

NASA and SpaceX successfully launched Crew-6 on SpaceX’s “Endeavour” Crew Dragon on May 2, 2023. Early this morning (Eastern Standard Time), the Expedition 68 crew welcomed Crew-6 on board the International Space Station.

A previous launch attempt was scrubbed due to difficulty with telemetry readings for one of the Raptor engines on the Falcon 9. The issue has been resolved since then.

During docking, the Crew Dragon experienced issues with a faulty docking hook sensor. They resolved it by sending a patch for the Crew Dragon’s docking software over their radio link with ground control.

Crew-5 is still onboard the International Space Station. During their increment, they had to find a workaround for a leaky Soyuz spacecraft that involved equipping their Crew Dragon to carry an additional crew member in case they had to evacuate. The Russian space agency Roscosmos sent a replacement Soyuz since then.

Crew-5 will return home after a few-day handover period. Until then, the space station will host eleven people, tying the record for the largest number of people on the ISS.

Crew-6 includes Mission Commander Stephen Bowen and Pilot Woody Hoburg, both NASA astronauts. The crew also includes Roscosmos cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev and United Arab Emirates (UAE) astronaut Sultan Alneyadi.

Sultan Alneyadi will be the first UAE astronaut to serve a full six-month increment on the International Space Station. His mission is part of a deal between NASA, SpaceX, Axiom Space, and the UAE.

UAE astronaut Hazzaa Ali Almansoori previously made a shorter trip to the International Space Station as part of a deal between the UAE and Roscosmos. His 2019 trip to the ISS represented the final use of the same launchpad that Yuri Gagarin launched from in 1961 before Roscosmos shut it down to retrofit it for launches of a more modern Soyuz model. During his weeklong stay on the ISS, Hazzaa Ali Almansoori conducted experiments for the UAE, Roscosmos, and the ESA. He also documented his experience for a series of public transmissions to his home country.

During their mission, Crew-6 will conduct routine maintenance, scientific experiments, and technology demonstrations on the International Space Station.

Much of the scientific work on the International Space Station involves biological and medical experiments that can lead to better medical treatments on Earth and a better understanding of the effects of long-duration space missions on future crew members. They also include valuable materials science experiments. Experiments that Crew-6 will conduct include a (highly controlled!) test of how materials burn in microgravity, biological experiments involving tissue chips of heart, brain, and cartilage tissue, and collection of microorganisms that might survive outside the International Space Station during an EVA.

Crew-6 is SpaceX’s seventh crewed flight for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program and ninth crewed flight overall. SpaceX also flies private missions like Axiom Space’s ongoing series of commercial flights to the International Space Station and the Inspiration4 mission. The International Space Station partners recently cleared Axiom-2 for launch and docking to the ISS.