Four astronauts from three nations, with a combined year-and-a-half of spaceflight experience and three days’ worth of Extravehicular Activity (EVA) between them, gathered at NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Texas, on Monday, 1 March, to discuss their forthcoming expedition to the International Space Station (ISS). They are targeting a full-duration, six-month increment aboard the sprawling orbital outpost and are expected to carry about 440 pounds (200 kg) of pressurized cargo uphill.
Seasoned U.S. veterans Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur were joined by Aki Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and Frenchman Thomas Pesquet of the European Space Agency (ESA). The quartet are slated to launch from historic Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida on 20 April, aboard Dragon Endeavour—the first reflight of a crewed, orbital-class spacecraft since the final voyage of the Space Shuttle—for an approximately six-month tour of duty aboard the space station. Questioned about how he feels flying Dragon Endeavour again, Kimbrough expressed excitement at flying aboard “another” Endeavour, the second one of his astronaut career.
All four members of Crew-2 have flown before. Commander Kimbrough, a 53-year-old retired U.S. Army colonel and a NASA astronaut since 2004, previously served as a Mission Specialist aboard shuttle Endeavour on STS-126 in November 2008. During the 16-day flight, he performed a pair of spacewalks to upgrade and maintain the orbital complex.
He went on to serve as Flight Engineer on Expedition 49 and Commander on Expedition 50, spending almost six months aboard the ISS between October 2016 and April 2017. All told, he has totaled almost 189 days in space and logged 39 hours on six EVAs. He becomes only the third American to launch from Earth aboard three different types of spacecraft, after Wally Schirra and John Young.
Forty-nine-year-old Pilot Megan McArthur, who was until last summer the deputy chief of NASA’s Astronaut Corps, returns to space more than a decade since her May 2009 flight aboard shuttle Atlantis on STS-125. This 13-day mission successfully completed the fifth and final overhaul of NASA’s scientific showpiece, the Hubble Space Telescope (HST). And whilst McArthur may fall far short of her Crew-2 crewmates in terms of the time she has spent in space, in terms of altitude—having traveled to 350 miles (570 km) to service Hubble—she has flown far higher than any of them.
Rounding out the crew are another pair of veterans, with 52-year-old Mission Specialist Aki Hoshide joining Kimbrough in becoming the joint-fourth humans after Mercury, Gemini and Apollo hero Wally Schirra, Gemini, Apollo and shuttle veteran John Young and shuttle, Soyuz and Crew Dragon flyer Soichi Noguchi to launch from Earth aboard three totally different space vehicles.
Hoshide served aboard shuttle Discovery on STS-124 in mid-2008, which installed Japan’s Kibo lab onto the ISS, before flying a Soyuz to space for a four-month tour as a member of Expeditions 32 and 33 between July and November 2012. During his second mission, Hoshide also performed three spacewalks, totaling more than 21 hours.
The final Crew-2 crewman, 43-year-old Thomas Pesquet, is the most flight-experienced of them all in terms of days spent in space. Having served aboard the ISS between November 2016 and June 2017—during which time he worked alongside Kimbrough as a member of the Expedition 50 team—he spent more than 196 days aloft on his first mission.
Pesquet also completed two EVAs, totaling 12.5 hours. With representatives of NASA, ESA and JAXA aboard Crew-2, this will be the first time that all three agencies have launched together on a U.S. vehicle since shuttle Endeavour’s STS-99 mission, way back in February 2000.
The Crew-2 team was announced by NASA last July and will ride to orbit not only aboard a previously-flown Crew Dragon vehicle, but also (for the first time) atop a previously-flown Falcon 9 booster core. They will ride Dragon Endeavour, which spent 64 days in orbit last summer when it ferried NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken on their Demo-2 test mission to the ISS.
Following refurbishment and the addition of a new unpressurized “trunk” segment, the spacecraft becomes the first crewed vehicle since shuttle Atlantis to be reflown on an Earth-orbital mission. And Kimbrough, McArthur, Hoshide and Pesquet will ride atop a Falcon 9 core tailnumbered “B1061”, which last saw service to deliver Crew-1 astronauts Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover, Shannon Walker and Soichi Noguchi to the ISS in November of last year.
With their own launch from Pad 39A at KSC targeted for no sooner than 20 April, the new crew are currently expected to arrive at the space station about 25 hours later. In yesterday’s media teleconference, managers noted that scope exists to push the launch a few days to the right, with six Crew-2 launch opportunities in the late April timeframe.
They will dock autonomously at International Docking Adapter (IDA)-2—situated on the forward end of the Harmony node—and be welcomed aboard by the Crew-1 quartet, as well as the Soyuz MS-18 crew, who are due to arrive earlier in April. This will produce an unusually large crew of 11 aboard the ISS, marking the first occasion that so many people have been simultaneously aboard the station since July 2011.
Current plans call for Hopkins & Co. to depart in early May—with as many as eight landing opportunities available to them—whereupon Expedition 65 will continue under the command of Russian cosmonaut Oleg Novitsky. He and fellow cosmonaut Pyotr Dubrov will be joined on Soyuz MS-18 by a third crew member, although whether it will be cosmonaut Sergei Korsakov or NASA veteran Mark Vande Hei remains to be determined. A decision is anticipated in the next week or so. In any case, Expedition 65 will progress through the summer months with an unbroken crew of seven.
And those months are expected to see a great deal of activity. In addition to a full agenda of scientific research, the Expedition 65 crew will welcome two SpaceX Cargo Dragons in June and August—the first of which is slated to deliver the inaugural set of ISS Roll-Out Solar Arrays (iROSAs)—as well as Russia’s Progress MS-17 and the long-awaited Nauka (“Science”) pressurized lab in July.
Departures will include Progress MS-14 in late April, Northrop Grumman Corp.’s NG-15 Cygnus in May and, uniquely, the end of the long-serving Pirs (“Pier”) docking module in July. The latter will be detached along with Progress MS-16 to end its days in a shower of fiery debris in the upper atmosphere, having served the ISS faithfully for two decades. It is being removed to make space for Nauka.
With at least one U.S. EVA planned in the summer to install the first set of iROSA arrays, much activity will be performed by the Russian Operational Segment (ROS) to get Nauka up and running. As many as five spacewalks by Novitsky and Dubrov are planned to disconnect utilities from the soon-to-be-deorbited Pirs and work on Nauka after its arrival.