Station Crew Prepares to Split Up While Research Continues

Astronauts (from left) Jessica Watkins, Bob Hines, Kjell Lindgren, and Samantha Cristoforetti talk to journalists on Earth about their space station mission. Credit: NASA TV
Astronauts (from left) Jessica Watkins, Bob Hines, Kjell Lindgren, and Samantha Cristoforetti talk to journalists on Earth about their space station mission. Credit: NASA TV

It was a busy Tuesday aboard the International Space Station as the 11 crew members split their time between advanced space research and orbital lab maintenance.  Four astronauts are also turning their attention to returning to Earth ending a mission that began in April.

Two new Expedition 68 crewmates focused their science activities on growing crops in space and maneuvering free-flying robots. NASA Flight Engineer Frank Rubio nourished vegetables and photographed their growth progress for the XROOTS space botany study. The experiment investigates using hydroponic and aeroponic techniques to support crop growth and sustain astronauts living in microgravity. Astronaut Koichi Wakata from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) turned on the Astrobee robotic free-flyers and watched as the toaster-sized devices performed image processing and laser pointing tasks using pre-programmed algorithms.

First-time NASA Flight Engineers Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada spent their day on maintenance and crew orientation activities. Mann collected a water sample and replaced a sensor in the U.S. Destiny laboratory module’s oxygen generation system. Cassada swapped components on the station’s bathroom, or Waste and Hygiene Compartment, then joined Rubio and reviewed how to install and remove helmets on the Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU) spacesuits. Mann and Cassada also trained on the operation of station exercise gear including the COLBERT treadmill and the Destiny module’s exercise bike.

Four astronauts are getting ready to return to Earth soon aboard the SpaceX Dragon Freedom crew ship. The quartet consisting of Freedom Commander Kjell Lindgren, Pilot Bob Hines and Mission Specialists Jessica Watkins and Samantha Cristoforetti spent Tuesday packing up cargo and personal items, charging computer tablets, and downloading deorbit data necessary to target Freedom’s reentry into Earth’s atmosphere and splashdown off the coast of Florida.

Watch the four departing astronauts’ farewell remarks on YouTube

The station’s three cosmonauts focused on station research and lab upkeep tasks on Tuesday. Two-time station visitor Sergey Prokopyev worked on computer hardware then researched how international crews and mission controllers can improve interactions. First-time space flyer Dmitri Petelin checked the Zvezda service module’s ventilation system then studied advanced Earth photography methods. New Flight Engineer Anna Kikina, who has been aboard the station less than a week, explored future spacecraft and robotic piloting techniques and later joined Petelin for the Earth photography session.


Learn more about station activities by following the space station blog@space_station and @ISS_Research on Twitter, as well as the ISS Facebook and ISS Instagram accounts.

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Station Crew Awaits Ax-1 Departure and Crew-4 Launch

International Space Station Configuration. Six spaceships are parked at the space station including the SpaceX Dragons Endurance and Endeavour; the Northrop Grumman Cygnus space freighter; and Russia's Soyuz MS-21 crew ship and the Progress 79 and 80 resupply ships.
International Space Station Configuration. Six spaceships are parked at the space station including the SpaceX Dragons Endurance and Endeavour; the Northrop Grumman Cygnus space freighter; and Russia’s Soyuz MS-21 crew ship and the Progress 79 and 80 resupply ships.

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.