Fire-breathing beasts are not just mythical creatures, despite what Game of Thrones would have you believe.
Some dragons aren’t animals at all. I’m talking about SpaceX’s Crew Dragon rocket, which on Sunday successfully docked with the International Space Station and introduced four astronauts to their new jobs for the next six months. The mission, which will support scientific research into human spaceflight beyond low-Earth orbit, is NASA’s seventh Commercial Crew rotation mission and the 11th orbital flight of Crew Dragon—to which FLYING awarded one of its 2021 Editors’ Choice Awards.
On Saturday morning, the Crew Dragon Endurance and Falcon 9 lift-launch vehicle lifted off from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, reaching orbit shortly after. The launch was originally scheduled for Friday but was scrubbed so NASA teams could complete some last-minute analysis and paperwork.
Endurance docked autonomously with the space station’s Harmony module at 9:16 a.m. EDT Sunday morning. The crew of four then opened the hatch and joined seven astronauts already aboard the orbiting laboratory.
NASA provided a live stream of the launch and docking. Images and video can be found here.
“Crew-7 is a shining example of the power of both American ingenuity and what we can accomplish when we work together,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “Aboard station, the crew will conduct more than 200 science experiments and technology demonstrations to prepare for missions to the Moon, Mars, and beyond, all while benefiting humanity on Earth.”
Meet the Crew
Crew-7’s four-person roster includes astronauts from four different countries and three continents.
NASA astronaut Jasmin Moghbeli serves as commander, presiding over all phases of flight from launch to reentry. Crew-7 is the American’s first trip to space. Konstantin Borisov, a cosmonaut of the Russian space agency Roscosmos, is also leaving the Earth for the first time and serves as mission specialist, monitoring Endurance during the launch and entry phases.
Joining Moghbeli and Borisov is Satoshi Furukawa, a Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut for over two decades who spent 165 days on the space station in 2011. Moghbeli, Borisov, and Furukawa will serve as flight engineers for NASA Expedition 69 and Expedition 70, the agency’s 69th and 70th long-duration missions to the station.
Andreas Mogensen, a European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut who became the first Danish national in space after spending 10 days aboard a Soyuz craft on a 2015 mission to the space station, rounds out the group. Mogensen serves as pilot, responsible for spacecraft systems and performance aboard the station. He will serve as a flight engineer for Expedition 69 before taking over as commander of Expedition 70.
Living and working 260 miles above the Earth, the crew will conduct an array of research: collecting microbial samples from the space station’s exterior, studying human response to different spaceflight durations, investigating the physiological aspects of astronaut sleep, and hosting other experiments and technology demonstrations.
“The ISS is an incredible science and technology platform that requires people from all around the world to maintain and maximize its benefits to people on Earth,” said Ken Bowersox, associate administrator of the Space Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. “It’s great seeing Crew-7 launch with four crew members representing four countries who will live and work on humanity’s home in space as we continue the nearly 23 years of a continuous human presence aboard the microgravity laboratory.”
The multinational Crew-7 group on Sunday joined the crew of Expedition 69, which includes NASA astronauts Stephen Bowen, Woody Hoburg, and Frank Rubio, UAE astronaut Sultan Alneyadi, and Roscosmos cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev, Dmitri Petelin, and Andrey Fedyaev. That means five countries are currently represented on the station.
Already, NASA has announced astronaut assignments for the Crew-8 mission in early 2024, which will join the Expedition 70 and 71 crews to perform more operational and research activities.
NASA’s Commercial Crew program is expected to extend well beyond then. Its goal is to develop and enhance U.S. human spaceflight systems to allow safe, reliable, and cost-effective access to and from the space station (and its potential successors). The program has been active since 2010, and SpaceX was enlisted as a partner in 2014 and will continue to support rotational missions.