NASA, SpaceX conducts Crew-7 mission to ISS

by Bella Richards

NASA launched its next astronaut rotation, Crew-7, to the International Space Station (ISS) on Saturday, docking the following day. The four astronauts launched from Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 Block 5 rocket in the Dragon spacecraft C210-3 Endurance. The first attempt stood down from the launch for issues relating to Dragon and the ISS.

The Crew-7 mission achieved several firsts, such as being the first flight for the Falcon 9 B1081 booster, which after separation returned to Landing Zone 1 (LZ-1). Further, it is the first SpaceX Crew Dragon mission piloted by a European, rather than a NASA astronaut. Lastly, it will also be the first time that four different space agencies are represented on a single Crew Dragon flight.

Launch Overview

The four people selected for the Crew-7 launch include NASA astronaut Jasmin Moghbeli who serves as the spacecraft commander, European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Andreas Mogensen piloting the spacecraft, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Satoshi Furukawa serving as a mission specialist alongside Roscosmos cosmonaut Konstantin Borisov.

The Crew will spend six months on the ISS, conducting several science experiments and maintaining the outpost as part of Expedition 69 and 70 members. In early 2024 when the Crew-8 crew arrives at the ISS, Crew-7 will then return to Earth in Endurance and be recovered by Shannon or Megan.

Endurance, which has been previously flown on NASA’s Crew-3 and Crew-5 missions, docked with the orbiting laboratory early on Sunday. This was the inaugural launch for the SpaceX booster B1081, which completed a static fire test in June ahead of the launch.

This is the seventh crew rotation flight, and eighth human spaceflight mission on a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft to the ISS as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program (CCP). NASA’s CCP is the agency’s modern-day effort to develop and fly human transportation systems into space.

The first astronauts chosen for the mission were selected in March 2022. Jasmin Moghbeli was selected as a NASA astronaut in 2017, and the Crew-7 mission will be her first flight into space. The New York-based astronaut graduated with a degree in aerospace engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a master’s in aerospace engineering from the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. She has flown 2,000 hours in more than 25 aircraft.

The pilot of the spacecraft is ESA astronaut Andreas Mogensen. This is a significant job for Mogensen, as he became the first European pilot on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon. This was his second trip to space after operating as the flight engineer for the ESA Iriss mission in 2015, where the Denmark-born Mogensen tested new technology for space. He has logged nine days, 20 hours, and nine minutes in space, and became the first Danish person to go to space. He currently is serving as the European astronaut liaison officer to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

JAXA’s astronaut Satoshi Furukawa serves as a mission specialist for Crew-7. This is also not Furukawa’s first time in space, after having spent 165 days on the ISS in 2011 as a flight engineer with Expeditions 28 and 29. Since 2014, Furukawa has been the head of JAXA’s Space Biomedical Research Group which is focused on bolstering research in space medicine.

Lastly, the second mission specialist for Crew-7 was cosmonaut Konstantin Borisov, who will be completing his first-ever spaceflight. Borisov entered the Roscosmos Cosmonaut Corps as a test cosmonaut candidate in 2018 and has two masters in Science in Operations Research and Systems Analysis and another in Aircraft building.

Falcon 9 and Dragon roll out to the launch pad at 39A in Florida for launch on Friday. (Credit: SpaceX)

What’s happened so far

Crew-7’s launch comes after several delays. The original launch date was scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 15, however on July 25, NASA announced it would be delayed to Thursday, Aug. 17. NASA explained “the new date – a shift of two days – allows for launch pad reconfiguration following a SpaceX Falcon Heavy mission”, which referred to the EchoStar 24 launch in July. 

On Aug. 1, NASA again announced the launch would be moved to Monday, Aug. 21, allowing for “additional time for launch site processing” at the Kennedy Space Center. However, days later the space agency announced the final launch date set for Friday, Aug. 25, after needing even more time for pad readiness after the Falcon Heavy launch. “The adjustment also takes advantage of consecutive launch opportunities and deconflicts the station’s cargo spacecraft traffic schedule”, NASA said on Aug. 3.

Prior to launch, the astronauts had a lot to prepare for. On Aug. 11, the crewmembers entered into a quarantine as one of the “major milestones” before heading to Florida to begin the mission.

“The process of flight crew health stabilization is a routine part of final preparations for all missions to the space station. Spending the final two weeks before liftoff in quarantine will help ensure Crew-7 members are healthy, as well as protect the astronauts already on the space station”, NASA explained. During the quarantine, the astronauts had limited contact with other people.

Following quarantine, on Sunday, Aug. 20, the Crew-7 members took a short plane trip from Ellington Field in Houston, Texas to Florida to begin final preparations before liftoff.

Crew-6 set to leave ISS

The launch of the latest crew comes five months after Crew-6 arrived at the ISS for its six-month stay. Crew-6 consisted of commander Stephen Bowen, pilot Warren “Woody” Hoburg, mission specialist Sultan AlNeyadi from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and mission specialist Andrey Fedyaev of Roscosmos. Significantly, the mission made history after launching the second UAE astronaut into space, who became the first Emirati to become a long-duration crewmember of the orbiting laboratory.

This mission marked the fourth flight of the Crew Dragon Endeavour. The vehicle first supported the Demo-2 mission, which was the first crewed Dragon mission to the ISS in 2020. It also supported Crew-2 in 2021 and Axiom-1 in 2022. Prior to this mission, the vehicle spent 280 days in space.

Following Crew-7’s docking, Crew-6 is set to finally leave the ISS no earlier than Friday, Sept. 1, splashing down off the coast of Florida.

The seventh launch under SpaceX’s contract with NASA comes as Boeing’s Starliner maiden Crewed Flight Test (CFT) has experienced even more delays. Earlier this August, Boeing, and NASA announced the spacecraft would not complete its first crewed flight until at least March 2024.

Endurance approaches the ISS for docking (Credit: NASA/Kjell Lingdren)

When NASA selected Boeing to be part of its Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap) in 2014, the agency ordered six flights for the company to complete to the ISS. However, with the Station’s planned demise approaching in 2030, the six flights have been thrown into question.

Yet, Boeing insists the company is still on track to complete them, while SpaceX, which was selected at the same time in 2014, will have completed seven flights already.

(Lead image: Falcon 9 and Crew Dragon launch Crew-7 Credit: Sawyer Rosenstein)

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