SpaceX astronaut capsule docks with space station

(CNN) A crew of astronauts aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule docked at the International Space Station, ending a one-day trip to rendezvous with the orbiting laboratory after launching from Florida early Thursday.

The capsule made first contact with the space station at 1:40 a.m. ET Friday and began opening its hatches at 3:45 a.m. EST.

The spacecraft was scheduled to dock with the ISS around 1:15 a.m. ET, but that was delayed as ground crews worked to troubleshoot a problem with a sensor on the capsule’s docking hardware, which is used to lock the vehicle onto the gate.

Engineers on the ground wrestled with the same problem early Thursday morning, just after the Crew Dragon capsule reached orbit. A faulty sensor had caused problems when they tried to lift the spacecraft’s nose cone, which protects the docking hardware during launch and is meant to open after reaching space. However, ground crews were able to use a backup system to fix the problem.

The capsule was then forced to hold its position Friday morning as it sat about 20 meters from the space station, and engineers worked in real time to find a solution.

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The Crew-6 team comes from three different countries and includes NASA astronauts Stephen Bowen, a veteran of three space shuttle missions, and first-time aviator Warren “Woody” Hoburg. Sultan Alneyadi, who is the second astronaut from the United Arab Emirates to travel to space, and Russian cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev round out the crew.

They are expected to spend up to six months in space, conducting science experiments and performing routine maintenance on the two-decade-old space station. Over the next few days, the Crew-6 astronauts will work on transition tasks from the four members of the Crew-5 team, who have been on the space station since October 2022.

The Crew-5 astronauts — which include Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada of NASA, astronaut Koichi Wakata of JAXA, or the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and cosmonaut Anna Kikina of Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos — are expected to return home in the coming days, when the operational handover to Crew-6 is complete.

Bowen, Hoburg, Fedyaev and Alneyadi will oversee more than 200 science and technology projects, including researching how some substances burn in the microgravity environment and examining microbial samples that will be collected from outside the space station.

The Crew-6 mission comes as America’s primary partner on the space station, Roscosmos, works on an unrelated transportation issue. In December, a Russian Soyuz spacecraft that had been used to transport cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitri Petelin and NASA astronaut Frank Rubio to the orbiting laboratory sprung a coolant leak. After the capsule was deemed unsafe to return the astronauts to Earth, Roscosmos launched a replacement vehicle on 23 February.

Upcoming missions to the space station

The Crew-6 astronauts will also host two other key missions that will stop at the space station during their stay. The first is the Boeing Crew Flight Test, which will mark the first astronaut mission under a Boeing-NASA partnership. Scheduled for April, the flight will carry NASA astronauts Barry Wilmore and Sunita Williams to the orbiting laboratory, marking the final phase of a test and demonstration program that Boeing must conduct to certify its Starliner spacecraft for routine astronaut missions.

Then, in May, a group of four astronauts is scheduled to arrive on Axiom Mission 2, or AX-2 for short—a privately funded space flight to the space station. This initiative, which will deploy its own SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, will be headed by Peggy Whitson, a former NASA astronaut who is now a private astronaut with the Texas-based space company Axiom, which brokered and organized the mission.

Like Axiom Mission 1, which visited the space station in April 2022, it will also include three paying customers, including the first astronauts from Saudi Arabia to travel to the orbiting laboratory. Their seats were paid for by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

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