Ax-3 Mission Countdown: ISS Crew Readies for Historic Private Astronaut Arrival

SpaceX Dragon Freedom Spacecraft Docked to Space Station

The SpaceX Dragon Freedom spacecraft is pictured docked to the space-facing port on the International Space Station’s Harmony module. Dragon Freedom carried four Axiom Mission-2 astronauts to the orbital lab on May 22, 2023, including Commander Peggy Whitson, Pilot John Shoffner, and Mission Specialists Ali Alqarni and Rayyanah Barnawi. Credit: NASA

Four private astronauts are readying for launch to the International Space Station this week while the Expedition 70 crew ramps up microgravity research and maintenance tasks after yesterday’s off-duty day.

The third private astronaut mission to the station, Axiom Mission 3 (Ax-3), is scheduled to liftoff from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 5:11 p.m. EST Wednesday, January 17. Ax-3 crew members, Commander Michael López-Alegría, Pilot Walter Villadei of Italy, Mission Specialist Alper Gezeravcı of Turkey, and ESA (European Space Agency) project astronaut Marcus Wandt of Sweden, will make the trek to the orbital lab aboard the SpaceX Dragon spacecraft, docking at 5:15 a.m. Friday, Jan. 19. The quartet will spend about two weeks conducting science and research in microgravity before heading home.

Astronaut Loral O’Hara Replaces Components on a Biological Printer

NASA astronaut and Expedition 70 Flight Engineer Loral O’Hara uses a portable glovebag to replace components on a biological printer, the BioFabrication Facility (BFF), that is testing the printing of organ-like tissues in microgravity. Credit: NASA

Ahead of Ax-3 arrival, NASA Flight Engineer Loral O’Hara spent most of the day prepping the station for new visitors. O’Hara inspected the airflow in crew quarters, prepped sleep accommodations for crew occupancy, and cleaned the liners and vents where the four private astronauts will sleep while aboard the orbital outpost.

ESA (European Space Agency) Commander Andreas Mogensen also prepped for Ax-3, completing training for Dragon rendezvous and docking. Afterward, he set up ECHO, which is equipped with motorized probs, for ground teams to perform remote maintenance activities.

ESA Astronaut Andreas Mogensen on Space Station

ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Andreas Mogensen pictured inside the Columbus laboratory module. Credit: NASA

While O’Hara and Mogensen prepped for Ax-3 crew arrival, other crew members took to space botany and biology tasks. NASA Flight Engineer Jasmin Moghbeli spent the day working with Plant Habitat-06, thinning wild-type tomato seedlings. Afterward, she set up and installed the Plant Water Management 5 hardware to the Maintenance Work Area.

JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) Flight Engineer Satoshi Furukawa removed culture units from the microscope used for the Space Organogenesis investigation, which demonstrates growth of organ buds from 3D-printed human stem cells. Additionally, Furukawa collected water samples from the station’s potable water dispenser for in-flight analysis.

The Roscosmos trio—Flight Engineers Oleg Kononenko, Nikolai Chub, and Konstantin Borisov—performed an array of maintenance activities on Tuesday. Kononenko replaced hardware in the Zvezda service module, while Chub replaced the thermal control system pump panel in the Zarya module. Afterward, Chub conducted an experiment studying liquid phases in microgravity, while Borisov distilled samples from the Roscosmos segment water management system and conducted maintenance on the station’s vacuum cleaner.

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