Expedition 68 Officially Begins on Space Station – SpaceX Crew Swap Planned

Expedition 68 Crew Portrait

The seven-member Expedition 68 crew poses for an official portrait. From left are, NASA astronaut Frank Rubio; Roscosmos cosmonaut Dmitri Petelin; Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Koichi Wakata; NASA astronauts Josh Cassada and Nicole Mann; and Roscosmos cosmonauts Sergey Prokopyev and Anna Kikina. Credit: NASA

The Expedition 68 mission is officially underway aboard the International Space Station (ISS) with seven astronauts and cosmonauts living and working together. The crew swaps aren’t finished yet as four SpaceX Crew-5 members count down to their upcoming launch to the orbiting laboratory.

Commander Samantha Cristoforetti of ESA (European Space Agency) will lead station operations for about the next two weeks, until she and fellow crewmates Kjell Lindgren, Bob Hines, and Jessica Watkins return to Earth aboard the SpaceX Dragon Freedom crew ship. The foursome has been aboard the space station since April 27. They spent the day on Friday checking their Dragon pressure suits, packing personal items, and reviewing departure and landing procedures.

Astronauts Jessica Watkins, Bob Hines, and Frank Rubio

Expedition 67 Flight Engineers (from left) Jessica Watkins, Bob Hines, and Frank Rubio, all three NASA astronauts, pose for a portrait together inside the cupola, the International Space Station’s “window to the world.” Credit: NASA

The homebound commercial crew is waiting for their SpaceX Crew-5 replacements. They are currently targeting a launch to the orbiting lab no earlier than noon EDT on Wednesday, October 5. SpaceX Crew-5 Commander Nicole Mann and Pilot Josh Cassada, both from NASA, with Mission Specialists Koichi Wakata of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and Anna Kikina of Roscosmos, are due to arrive at the station one day after launching aboard the Dragon Endurance. They will spend a few days getting used to life on orbit before Cristoforetti and her three Freedom crewmates end their mission, undock, and parachute to Earth inside the Freedom crew ship.

In the meantime, first-time space-flyer Frank Rubio of NASA is in his second week as a flight engineer onboard the orbiting lab. He arrived at the space station with fellow flight engineers Sergey Prokopyev and Dmitriy Petelin, both cosmonauts from Roscosmos, on September 21 inside the Soyuz MS-22 crew ship.

Rubio spent the end of the week working on the Intelligent Glass Optics study, exploring how to use artificial intelligence to adapt materials manufacturing, such as fiber optics, to the vacuum of space for. He swapped and observed glass fiber samples being pulled inside the Microgravity Science Glovebox. Petelin and Prokopyev and Petelin partnered together for a study exploring how microgravity affects the heart and blood vessels.

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