KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. – Six spaceships and 11 astronauts from four countries are -- at least for a few days -- all on the International Space Station after the Crew-2 astronauts arrival Saturday morning, making it the most exclusive party 200 miles above Earth.
While like all residents of the orbiting laboratory, NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Akihiko Hoshide and European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet are there to work, the mood leading up to their arrival had a closer feel to that of friends showing up with lots of treats for their hosts.
The American, Japanese and European astronaut envoy launched Friday at 5:49 a.m. in the SpaceX Crew Dragon atop the Falcon 9 rocket. The pre-sunrise liftoff put on quite a show for the southern U.S. as well as the astronauts who experienced riding the Falcon into space.
After the Dragon Endeavour spacecraft was safely in orbit headed to the ISS, McArthur complimented the SpaceX rocket and ship.
“The ascent was incredible. The ride was really smooth, we couldn’t have asked for anything better,” McArthur said. “There may have been some hootin’ and gigglin’ up here while all that was going on.”
Pesquet agreed, saying “the ride up was fantastic.”
Endeavour began docking maneuvers around 3:40 a.m. Saturday and autonomously docked at the ISS forward port at 5:08 a.m. Both the ISS and Dragon were traveling at 17,500 mph Earth as the docking happened.
NASA astronaut Victor Glover was keeping a close eye from the ISS as Dragon Endeavour made its final approach, ready to welcome four more astronauts to the orbiting laboratory.
“Welcome to the ISS. We are so excited to have you aboard,” space station Commander Shannon Walker, of NASA, said moments after Dragon was officially attached.
After the hatch opening, the four astronauts will be greeted by the current ISS residents from the U.S., Russia and Japan, four of whom arrived on another Dragon spacecraft called Resilience in November 2020, known as the Crew-1 mission team. That crew with NASA astronauts Mike Hopkins, Walker, Glover and JAXA astronaut Soichi Noguchi will depart on April 28.
Crew-2′s arrival also marks the first time two JAXA astronauts will be at the ISS at the same time.
The Crew-1 astronauts, along with their Russian counterparts, watched the launch Friday morning and could be seen cheering and fist pumping when the Falcon 9 soared into the sky above Kennedy Space Center.
“Once we dock we’re going to get on board and see our friends who are up there right now,” Hoshide said Friday shortly after performing a flip in Endeavour with the aid of low-gravity.
Adding to the fan fair, Dragon Endeavour is also carrying important supplies and hardware for the space station, including new solar panels to power the station, food and research to be conducted in low-Earth orbit.
With spaceship cargo deliveries every few months, the astronauts, who stay for about months at a time, will welcome fresh supplies and goods from Earth.
On Saturday, the ISS had more spaceships docked than most have cars in their driveway. The astronauts recently had to move two spacecraft to make way for their newest residents.
Dragon Endeavour became the sixth spacecraft docked at the ISS, joining Dragon Resilience, three Russian Soyuz spacecraft and Northrop Grumman’s cargo ship.
For the next four days, the space station will be home to 11 astronauts, just shy of the record of 13 set during NASA’s space shuttle era. The current population includes six Americans, two Russians, two Japanese and one French. It will shrink by four on Wednesday when three Americans and one Japanese depart for home and a splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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