Shutdown of the Falcon 9 rocket’s second stage engines occurs right on time, and Crew Dragon is now in orbit. In just a moment, the rocket’s first stage will attempt to land on the droneship “A Shortfall of Gravitas” in the Atlantic Ocean.
The call came in from Crew-4 Commander Kjell Lindgren that trajectory is nominal, and the first stage has started its descent. The Falcon 9 rocket’s second stage will continue to burn for the next few minutes before intentionally shutting down.
The crew has finished executing communication and suit leak checks with the launch team, and their seats have been rotated into position for launch. The seats in Dragon start out upright for easy entry and rotate to launch position, which allows for easy access to the display panels. Up next, the hatch on Freedom will be closed.
In the next few minutes, the crew will take the elevator up the pad’s launch tower and walk across the crew access arm into the White Room – the final Earth-bound stop for the crew before entering the spacecraft.
The integrated NASA, Axiom Space, and SpaceX teams have agreed on a plan for the Axiom Mission 1 (Ax-1) crew to undock from the International Space Station at 8:35 p.m. EDT Saturday, April 23, for a splashdown off the coast of Florida about 1:46 p.m. 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.
NASA will provide live coverage of departure activities beginning at 6:15 p.m. Saturday, April 23, with hatch closure targeted for 6:30 p.m. Coverage will resume at 8:15 p.m. for the undocking. Teams will continue to monitor weather at the splashdown sites prior to undocking to ensure conditions are acceptable for a safe recovery of the Ax-1 astronauts and Dragon spacecraft.
NASA and Axiom mission planning prepared for the possibility of additional time on station for the private astronauts, and 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 departure of Dragon Endeavour from the space station will clear the docking port for the arrival of Dragon Freedom and NASA’s SpaceX Crew-4 astronauts. The earliest 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. 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.
The Crew-4 astronauts spent last night at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida rehearsing the countdown to their launch inside the SpaceX Dragon Freedom, the company’s newest crew ship. Overnight, Crew-4 Commander Kjell Lindgren, Pilot Robert Hines with Mission Specialists Jessica Watkins and Samantha Cristoforetti, put on their pressure suits and entered their vehicle conducting a successful dry dress rehearsal. The Falcon 9 rocket, with the Freedom perched atop, stands at Launch Complex 39A.
Expedition 67 crewmates Raja Chari and Tom Marshburn, who are also the SpaceX Crew-3 commander and pilot respectively, spent a little time on Wednesday with their upcoming departure activities. The pair, along with Kayla Barron of NASA and Matthias Maurer of ESA, will wait for the arrival of their Crew-4 replacements before returning to Earth a few days later inside the Dragon Endurance vehicle. The four astronauts had a light-duty day on Wednesday scheduling in some housecleaning tasks.
Over in the Russian segment of the station, cosmonauts Oleg Artemyev and Denis Matveev wrapped up their post-spacewalk activities today stowing their tools and discussing the excursion with specialists on the ground. The duo kicked off a series of spacewalks on April 18 to configure the European robotic arm for operations on the Nauka multipurpose laboratory module. Roscosmos Flight Engineer Sergey Korsakov started his day with electronics and communications maintenance before studying future spacecraft and robotic piloting techniques in the afternoon.