Commercial crew, including first Turkish citizen in space, docks with International Space Station

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A privately chartered SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule caught up with the International Space Station early Saturday and glided in for a smooth docking, bringing a four-man crew to the orbital outpost for a two-week commercial research mission.

Crew Dragon commander Michael López-Alegría, a retired NASA astronaut, Italian co-pilot Walter Velladei, Swedish flier Marcus Wandt and Alper Gezeravci, the first Turkish citizen to fly in space, docked at the station’s forward Harmony module at 5:42 a.m. EST to wrap up a two-day rendezvous.

They were welcomed aboard the ISS by the station’s current seven-member crew: Soyuz MS-24/70S commander Oleg Kononenko and his two crewmates, Nikolai Chub and NASA astronaut Loral O’Hara, along with NASA Crew-7 commander Jasmin Moghbeli, European Space Agency astronaut Andreas Mogensen, Japanese flier Satoshi Furukawa and cosmonaut Konstantin Borisov.

The arrival of the Ax-3 crew will boost the International Space Station crew to 11 for the next two weeks. The new arrivals, wearing dark blue flight suits, were front and center during a welcome aboard ceremony Saturday (left to right): commander Michael López-Alegría (United States and Spain), Marcus Wandt (Sweden), Alper Gezeravci (Turkey) and Walter Velladei (Italy).

NASA TV


With the arrival of the Crew Dragon and López-Alegría, who holds dual U.S.-Spanish citizenship, a record eight nations are represented aboard the ISS: The United States, Spain, Russia, Japan, Denmark, Italy, Turkey and Sweden.

“This is an incredibly exciting time for human spaceflight with the third private mission, which is allowing many more countries to participate in the scientific research and technology development that we do onboard this orbiting laboratory,” said station commander Mogensen, a European Space Agency astronaut.

“We have doubled the number of nationalities onboard the space station, going from four to eight, which I think is a great testament to the international collaboration. … We look forward to the next two weeks, to an intense period of work on board the space station.”

López-Alegría, making his sixth spaceflight — his second as a private citizen — thanked the station crew and presented astronaut pins to his three crewmates to mark their first trip to orbit.

“I want to thank all of you guys again for welcoming us aboard,” López-Alegría said to the station crew. “I know that it’s tough to have guests in your house, and we promise not to spill any red wine on your white carpet.”

The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft launched Thursday from the Kennedy Space Center docked at the International Space Station early Saturday, bringing a four-man crew to the outpost for a two-week commercial research mission.

NASA TV


The Crew Dragon visit is SpaceX’s fourth fully commercial flight carrying non-government researchers and private citizens to orbit, the third such flight to the International Space Station chartered by Houston-based Axiom Space.

During a planned 14-day stay aboard the station, the Ax-3 crew will carry out more than 30 microgravity experiments to learn more about the effects of weightlessness on a variety of physical and cognitive health and performance.

Other research includes ways to use telemedicine to evaluate the health of astronauts in space, tests of a “smart flight suit” designed to “increase the psycho-physical comfort of the astronaut and to monitor medical data” and another project to test materials better able to shield astronauts from space radiation.

Once the research is complete, López-Alegría and his crewmates will strap back into their Crew Dragon and undock from the space station on Feb. 3 for a fiery plunge back to Earth and splashdown off the coast of Florida.

The Ax-3 mission kicks off a busy few weeks for the International Space Station as NASA and Roscosmos, the Russian federal space agency, fly up fresh astronauts and cosmonauts to replace five of the seven current full-time residents and to swap out a Russian Soyuz ferry ship.

In late February, cosmonaut Alexander Grebenkin and three NASA astronauts — rookies Matthew Dominick and Jeanette Epps and ISS veteran Michael Barratt — are scheduled for launch from the Kennedy Space Center aboard another Crew Dragon, docking at the Harmony module’s forward port vacated by the Ax-3 crew.

After a short handover to familiarize their replacements with the ins and outs of space station operations, Moghbeli and her Crew 7 partners will undock in early March and return to Earth to close out a six-month stay in space.

Then, on March 21, the Soyuz MS-25/71S spacecraft will blast off from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan carrying veteran cosmonaut Oleg Novitskiy, Belarus guest flier Marina Vasilevskaya and NASA veteran Tracy Dyson.

If all goes well, Novitskiy, Vasilevskaya and O’Hara will return to Earth on April 2 aboard the Soyuz MS-24/70S spacecraft that carried Kononenko, Chub and O’Hara into space last September.

Dyson will stay behind on the ISS with Kononenko and Chub, who are spending a full year in space, and join them for return to Earth in September aboard the Soyuz MS-25/71S ferry ship.

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