Orbital Outpost Prepares for Departure of Four Private Ax-3 Astronauts

Ax-3 Astronaut Farewell

The 11 crew members representing the Expedition 70 (red shirts) and Axiom Space 3 (dark blue suits) crews gather for a farewell ceremony calling down to mission controllers on Earth. Credit: NASA TV

The Expedition 70 and Axiom Mission 3 (Ax-3) crews called down to Mission Control on Friday for a farewell ceremony as the four private astronauts target their departure for Saturday morning. (Subsequently, the undocking has been delayed until Monday, February 5, due to weather conditions off the coast of Florida.) The orbital residents aboard the International Space Station worked just half a day packing the SpaceX Dragon Freedom spacecraft before going to bed early to get ready for the spacecraft’s undocking.

Final Day and Splashdown Plans

The Ax-3 private astronauts thought they were on their final day aboard the orbital outpost following two weeks of science and educational activities. The foursome, led by Commander Michael López-Alegría, was targeted to undock inside Dragon from the Harmony module’s forward port at 6:05 a.m. EST on Saturday. However, due to weather conditions off the coast of Florida, NASA, Axiom Space, and SpaceX are now targeting no earlier than Monday, February 5, for the undocking of Axiom Mission 3.

SpaceX Dragon Freedom Spacecraft Approaches Space Station

The SpaceX Dragon Freedom spacecraft carrying the four-member Axiom Mission 3 (Ax-3) crew is pictured on January 20 approaching the International Space Station 260 miles above southern India. Credit: NASA

After undocking, López-Alegría, along with Pilot Walter Villadei and Mission Specialists Alper Gezeravcı and Marcus Wandt, will then parachute inside Dragon to the splashdown site where support personnel from Axiom Space and SpaceX await their arrival. Mission managers will receive a final weather report before giving the Ax-3 quartet the final go for a splashdown off the coast of Florida.

Mission Wrap-Up and Crew Contributions

Space station Commander Andreas Mogensen from ESA (European Space Agency) helped the Ax-3 crewmates wrap up their mission activities helping reconfigure the orbital lab for standard crew operations. NASA Flight Engineers Jasmin Moghbeli and Loral O’Hara joined in and retrieved station emergency gear from Dragon and stowed science hardware inside the returning spacecraft.

Cygnus Space Freighter Approaches International Space Station February 2024

Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus space freighter approaches the International Space Station to deliver more than 8,200 pounds of science experiments, crew supplies, and station hardware for the Expedition 70 crew. Both spacecraft were orbiting 262 miles above the Middle East at the time of this photograph. Credit: NASA

Earlier, O’Hara partnered with astronaut Satoshi Furukawa from JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) and transferred research samples from the newly arrived Cygnus cargo craft into science freezers aboard the station. Furukawa later swapped out research hardware that supports botany and biology experiments with a minimum of astronaut intervention inside the Columbus laboratory module.

Station Maintenance and Research Activities

Cosmonauts Oleg Kononenko and Nikolai Chub packed the Progress 85 resupply ship, docked to the Zvezda service module’s rear port, with trash and discarded items before it ends its cargo mission and undocks later this month. Flight Engineer Konstantin Borisov spent his shift configuring a variety of experiment hardware. Borisov serviced a camera that observes Earth’s atmosphere in ultraviolet wavelengths, charged hardware that documents crew interactions with mission controllers from around the world, then deactivated medical gear that continuously monitors a crew member’s blood pressure.

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