SpaceX Crew Dragon docks with space station with replacement crew

A day after launch From the Kennedy Space Center, a Crew Dragon spacecraft docked with the International Space Station early Friday and brought two NASA astronauts, a Russian cosmonaut and an astronaut from the United Arab Emirates to the outpost for a six-month stay.

With Crew-6 Commander Stephen Bowen and Pilot Woody Hoburg watching computer screens, flanked on the right by cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev and on the left by Sultan Alneyadi, the Crew Dragon engaged the docking mechanism of the forward Harmony’s space-facing port module at 1:40 a.m. EST.

The Crew Dragon ferry ship (top center), carrying a crew of four, flew itself to an automated docking dock at the International Space Station early Friday after a 25-hour rendezvous / Credit: NASA TV

The docking came a little later than planned, as SpaceX engineers developed and tested a software patch to bypass a faulty sensor on one of the 12 hooks needed to lock the Crew Dragon in place.

“After a short scenic detour, welcome to the International Space Station,” David Hwang, a crew communicator with SpaceX Mission Control, radioed from Hawthorne, California.

“We’re happy to be here,” replied Bowen, a veteran of three space shuttle missions.

Moments later, all 12 hooks were retracted as expected to securely lock the Crew Dragon in place, initiating leak checks to verify an airtight structural seal.

The hatches were opened about two hours after docking and the crew finally floated into the space station and were welcomed aboard by Crew-5 Commander Nicole Mann, Josh Cassada, Koichi Wakata and cosmonaut Anna Kikina, along with Soyuz MS-22/23 aviators Sergey Prokopyev, Dmitri Petelin and NASA astronaut Frank Rubio

The space station's five-member, two-woman crew welcomed the four Crew Dragon aviators aboard with smiles, hugs, and laughter before a brief welcoming ceremony.  / Credit: NASA TV

The space station’s five-member, two-woman crew welcomed the four Crew Dragon aviators aboard with smiles, hugs, and laughter before a brief welcoming ceremony. / Credit: NASA TV

“Hello everyone. I am so happy (we are) here (with) our friends,” station commander Prokopyev, who spoke English, said at a welcoming ceremony. “It’s great to see you smiling here, and we look forward to working together. And Steve, Sultan, Andrey, Woody, my congratulations for joining us.”

He also congratulated the Crew Dragon’s three rookie pilots.

“This is an important part of your life,” he said. “Andrey became a cosmonaut, Woody and Sultan became astronauts. So they’re real astronauts now! I wish you well here and a good flight. I look forward to working together.”

Bowen said: “I look forward to working aboard for the next six months and sending Crew-5 home for a well-earned rest after hard work.”

Crew-6 replaces Mann, Cassada, Wakata and Kikina, who left for the station last October. They will spend about five days familiarizing their replacements with the intricacies of station operations before strapping on, undocking their own Crew Dragon and returning to Earth around March 9 to complete a 154-day mission.

The SpaceX crew dragon

The SpaceX crew dragon

“Excited to get you on board, and not just because we get to go home afterwards,” Cassada radioed Crew-6 Dragon during the final stages of the rendezvous.

“We agree, we’re happy to send you home,” Bowen replied. “And I look forward to seeing you this afternoon, this morning, tonight, whatever it may be.”

Prokopyev, Petelin and Rubio were launched to the lab last September and originally planned to fly home later this month.

But their Soyuz MS-22 ferry ship was crippled on Dec. 14 when a suspected micrometeoroid ruptured a coolant pipe. They are now driving one replacement Soyuz back to Earth. But to get the crew’s rotation schedule back on track, the trio will have to spend another six months in space, returning home this fall after a full year in orbit.

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