Space Station Shuffle: Crew Swap and Stellar Science Activities Unfold

 Hurricane Idalia in the Gulf of Mexico

Hurricane Idalia is pictured in the Gulf of Mexico as the International Space Station orbited 261 miles above on August 29, 2023. Credit: NASA

Aboard the International Space Station (ISS) on Wednesday, four new crew members are acclimating to their first week orbiting Earth. Meanwhile, another quartet of Expedition 69 flight engineers is preparing to end their six-month stay in space.

New Crew Familiarization

Eleven crew members from five countries are living and working together on the orbital outpost as two of its crews are in the middle of swapping places. New station flight engineers Jasmin Moghbeli and Andreas Mogensen, of NASA and ESA (European Space Agency) respectively, continued unpacking the SpaceX Dragon Endurance spacecraft throughout the day. In the afternoon, the duo joined NASA Flight Engineer Frank Rubio, who has been aboard the station for nearly a year, and reviewed station operations, systems, and procedures.

Similarly, the remaining new flight engineers, Satoshi Furukawa of JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) and Konstantin Borisov of Roscosmos, also continued familiarizing themselves with life in weightlessness. The pair is learning how to make meals, exercise on the workout facilities, sleep in the crew quarters, and use the station’s bathroom, also known as the waste and hygiene compartment.

Astronauts Frank Rubio and Sultan Alneyadi Enjoy a Slice of Pizza

Two Expedition 69 crew members pose for a portrait in the International Space Station’s Unity module during the always popular pizza night. From left are, Flight Engineers Frank Rubio from NASA and Sultan Alneyadi from UAE (United Arab Emirates). Credit: NASA

Preparations for Earth Return

The station crew will drop back to seven members no earlier than September 2 when the SpaceX Dragon Endeavour is due to return four flight engineers, who have been in space since March, back to Earth. NASA astronaut Stephen Bowen will command Endeavour leading NASA Pilot Woody Hoburg and Mission Specialists Sultan Alneyadi of UAE (United Arab Emirates) and Andrey Fedyaev of Roscosmos to a splashdown off the coast of Florida.

The Earth-bound foursome has been handing over its responsibilities to the newly arrived crew while preparing for the return to Earth’s gravity environment. The four crew mates this week have been packing Endeavour, reviewing deorbit and splashdown procedures, and talking to NASA and SpaceX ground support personnel.

Astrobees on Space Station

Animation of Astrobees on the space station. Credit: NASA

Research and Long-Term Crew Activities

Despite their impending departure, Bowen and Hoburg still had time on Wednesday for ongoing research activities. Bowen rounded up science hardware for an upcoming space biology experiment. Hoburg inspected and activated an Astrobee free-flying robotic helper as engineers on the ground monitored its performance.

The longest-serving crew aboard the station has been orbiting Earth since September 21, 2022. Rubio along with Commander Sergey Prokopyev and Flight Engineer Dmitri Petelin are assisting with the crew swap activities. The trio from NASA and Roscosmos has also worked on cargo activities, space science, and standard health checks this week.

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