September 4th, 2023
Three astronauts and one cosmonaut returned to Earth in a SpaceX Dragon capsule after spending roughly six months aboard the International Space Station.
Crew Dragon Endeavour splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean, just off the coast of Jacksonville, Florida, at 12:17 a.m. EDT (04:17 UTC) Sept. 4. Aboard the Crew-6 mission were NASA astronauts Stephen Bowen and Woody Hoburg, United Arab Emirates astronaut Sultan Alneyadi and Roscosmos cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev.
“After spending six months aboard the International Space Station, logging nearly 79 million miles during their mission, and completing hundreds of scientific experiments for the benefit of all humanity, NASA’s SpaceX Crew-6 has returned home to planet Earth,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson in an agency statement. “This international crew represented three nations, but together they demonstrated humanity’s shared ambition to reach new cosmic shores. The contributions of Crew-6 will help prepare NASA to return to the Moon under Artemis, continue onward to Mars, and improve life here on Earth.”
This was the completion of the sixth ISS crew rotation flight performed by SpaceX under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. Liftoff occurred at 12:34 a.m. EST (05:34 UTC) March 2 atop a Falcon 9 rocket from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The capsule and its occupants docked with the space station about 25 hours later.
This was the fourth spaceflight for Bowen, who has now accumulated 227 days in space. His other three flights were aboard space shuttle Endeavour in 2008, Atlantis in 2010 and Discovery in 2011.
Bowen is the only astronaut to fly in back-to-back space shuttle missions — STS-132 and STS-133. In January 2011, just a month before STS-133 was scheduled to fly to the ISS, NASA astronaut Tim Kopra was injured in a bicycle accident. Because of his spacewalk experience, Bowen was his replacement.
The 186-day Crew-6 mission was the first spaceflight for Hoburg, Alneyad and Fedyaev.
Throughout the majority of their mission, the Crew-6 quartet were part of the larger seven-person Expedition 69 aboard the ISS. Over the course of the last six months they participated in a variety of science experiments and technology demonstrations.
Three spacewalks were also performed. All three included Bowen, who was partnered with Hoburg for two and Alneyadi for one. All were performed in preparation and installation of two new ISS Roll-Out Solar Arrays to augment the outpost’s power supply.
Bowen’s 10 spacewalks over his four missions give him a career total time of 65 hours and 57 minutes spent outside the ISS in a spacesuit. This puts him in third place for the most extravehicular activity time, just behind former NASA astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria (now an astronaut for Axiom Space), who’s 10 spacewalks total 67 hours and 40 minutes.
The record for most spacewalks and spacewalk time by any person is held by former Soviet and Russian cosmonaut Anatoly Solovyev. His 16 spacewalks between 1988 and 1998 totaled 82 hours and 22 minutes, all outside the Mir space station.
Crew Dragon Endeavour completed its fourth flight. It was first used in 2020 for SpaceX’s first crewed flight, the Demo-2 mission to the ISS. Following its return to Florida, the capsule is slated to be inspected and refurbished by SpaceX before being prepared for its next mission.
SpaceX has four active Crew Dragon capsules, the other three are named Resilience, Endurance and Freedom, which have each flown two, three and two times with Endurance currently at the ISS with NASA’s seventh crew rotation mission — Crew-7.
A fifth Crew Dragon is currently being built. It’s expected to be finished sometime next year before being entered into service. SpaceX’s human-rated capsules are used for ISS crew rotation missions as well as private missions to the ISS and solo low Earth orbit missions.
To date, SpaceX has flown 11 crewed missions since May of 2020, sending 42 people into orbit.
As an interesting comparison, during the first three years and three months of the space shuttle program, 11 missions were flown, also sending 42 people into space. However, historically, as the space shuttle program progressed it flew more often and had a higher seating capacity.
Video courtesy of SciNews
Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a website about human spaceflight called Orbital Velocity. You can find him on twitter @TheSpaceWriter.