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A crew of astronauts aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule docked with the International Space Station, concluding a day-long trip to rendezvous with the orbiting lab after launching from Florida early Thursday.
The capsule made its first contact with the space station at 1:40 a.m. ET on Friday and began opening the hatches at 3:45 a.m. EST.
The spacecraft was scheduled to dock with the ISS around 1:15 a.m. ET, but it was delayed as ground crews worked to resolve an issue with a sensor on the capsule’s docking hardware, which is used to lock the vehicle to its port.
Ground engineers faced the same problem in the early hours of Thursday morning, just after the Crew Dragon capsule reached orbit. A faulty sensor had caused problems when trying to lift the spacecraft’s nose cone, which protects docking hardware during launch and is supposed to open after reaching space. Ground crews, however, were able to use a backup system to resolve the issue.
The capsule was then forced to hold its position on Friday morning while about 70 feet (20 meters) from the space station, and engineers worked in real time to find a solution.
Coming from three different countries, the Team Crew-6 features NASA astronaut Stephen Bowen, a veteran of three space shuttle missions, and first flyer Warren “Woody” Hoburg. Sultan Alneyadi, who is the second UAE astronaut to travel into space, and Russian cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev complete the crew.
They are expected to spend up to six months in space, conducting science experiments and performing routine maintenance on the two-decade-old space station. Over the next few days, Crew-6 astronauts will work to transition the tasks of the four Crew-5 team members, who have been on the space station since October 2022.
The Crew-5 astronauts – which include Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada of NASA, astronaut Koichi Wakata of JAXA or the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and cosmonaut Anna Kikina of the Russian space agency Roscosmos – are expected to return home in the coming days, once the operational transfer to Crew-6 is complete.
Bowen, Hoburg, Fedyaev and Alneyadi will oversee more than 200 science and technology projects, including research on the combustion of certain substances in the microgravity environment and investigations microbial samples which will be collected outside the space station.
The Crew-6 mission comes as the United States’ main partner on the space station, Roscosmos, is working on an unrelated transportation issue. In December, a Russian Soyuz spacecraft that had been used to ferry cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitry Petelin and NASA astronaut Frank Rubio to the orbiting laboratory caused a coolant leak. After the capsule was deemed unsafe to bring astronauts back to Earth, Roscosmos launched a replacement vehicle on February 23.
Crew-6 astronauts will also host two other key missions that will stop at the space station during their stay. The first is the Boeing Crew Flight Test, which will mark the first astronaut mission under a Boeing-NASA partnership. Scheduled for April, the flight will carry NASA astronauts Barry Wilmore and Sunita Williams to the orbiting lab, marking the final phase of a test and demonstration program Boeing must complete to certify its Starliner spacecraft for missions. routine of astronauts.
Then, in May, a group of four astronauts are scheduled to arrive on Axiom Mission 2, or AX-2 for short – a privately funded spaceflight to the space station. The initiative, which will deploy a separate SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, will be commanded by Peggy Whitson, a former NASA astronaut who is now a private astronaut with Texas-based space company Axiom, which brokered and organized the mission.
Similar to the Axiom 1 mission, which visited the space station in April 2022, it will also feature three paying customers, including the first Saudi astronauts to travel to the orbiting lab. Their seats were paid for by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.