CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — SpaceX’s latest astronaut mission for NASA has reached its destination.
The Crew-5 mission launched yesterday (Oct. 5) from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, sending a Dragon capsule aloft atop a Falcon 9 rocket. That Dragon, named Endurance, caught up with the International Space Station (ISS) today (Oct. 6), after a 29-hour orbital chase.
Endurance made contact with the forward port of the station’s Harmony module at 5:01 p.m. EDT (2101 GMT), while the two spacecraft were flying over the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of West Africa. The docking operation was completed about 10 minutes later.
The hatches between Endurance and the ISS are scheduled to open at 6:42 p.m. EDT (2242 GMT), after which the Crew-5 astronauts — NASA’s Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada, Japan’s Koichi Wakata and cosmonaut Anna Kikina — will move into the ISS for a five-month stay.
You can watch the hatch opening here at Space.com, courtesy of NASA TV, as well as an ISS welcome ceremony, which is slated to follow at 8:05 p.m. EDT (0005 GMT on Oct. 7).
Mann and Kikina have the honor of carrying personal mantles for this mission: Mann is the first Native American woman in space, and Kikina is the first cosmonaut to fly on a SpaceX Dragon. Both are spaceflight rookies, as is Cassada; Wakata has now been to space five times.
The Dragon Endurance also ferried SpaceX’s Crew-3 mission to the ISS and back. SpaceX operates a fleet of four Crew Dragon capsules, which are refurbished and tested before each reflight. Endurance flew with a combination of new and previously flown components, including a new heat shield, parachutes and nose cone.
SpaceX is also well known for flying used rockets, but the Crew-5 liftoff featured a Falcon 9 with a brand-new first stage. The booster, painted with NASA’s worm logo, was bright white, free of the soot that’s a familiar sight on the company’s reflown first stages.
“We do like getting the new boosters,” Steve Stich, manager of NASA’s commercial crew program, said in a post-launch press conference yesterday.
“Every time SpaceX puts a new booster in the fleet, they continue to make … safety improvements to the boosters,” Stich explained. “We like the reflown boosters, but … getting a new booster gets us some upgrades and some safety improvements, which we appreciate a massive amount.”
The Crew-5 astronauts are joining seven crewmates already aboard the ISS, four of whom are members of SpaceX’s Crew-4 mission. Crew-5’s arrival begins the countdown for Crew-4’s departure from the station, which will happen in about a week, said Sarah Walker, director for Dragon mission management at SpaceX.
The exact timing of Crew-4’s splashdown return off the coast of Florida is dependent on weather, Walker said during yesterday’s post-launch press conference.
“So, we’ll continue to watch the weather,” she said. “The vehicle that is onboard supporting the Crew-4 mission is healthy, and we’ll just watch for those conditions to safely bring the crew home.”