Dragon Resilience Crew Discusses Falcon 9 Ride, Living in Space

Crew-1 launched from historic Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida at 7:27 p.m. EST Sunday. Photo Credit: Jeff Seibert/AmericaSpace

Less than four days after their spectacular night launch in hot pursuit of the International Space Station (ISS), Crew-1 astronauts Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover, Shannon Walker and Soichi Noguchi were in jubilant spirits on Thursday morning as they discussed their in-progress mission with media on the ground.

Video Credit: AmericaSpace

Joined at the hatchway to International Docking Adapter (IDA)-2—at the forward end of the station’s Harmony node—by Expedition 64 crewmate Kate Rubins, the words “awesome” and “amazing” seemed to be the staples as they attempted to describe being only the second group of space travelers to ride a Falcon 9 and a Crew Dragon. And for Glover, the only “rookie” member of Crew-1 and the first African-American long-duration ISS resident, it would appear that a permanent smile has remained imprinted on his face for the last four days.

With Hopkins and Glover having trained together for this mission since August 2018, and joined by Walker and Noguchi last March, Crew-1 brings an immense amount of experience to the table. At the time of launch, they had a cumulative total of over 506 days in space between them, more than 7,900 completed Earth orbits and 33 hours of spacewalking.

Sunday’s night launch was the first U.S. human space mission to begin in the hours of darkness since STS-131 in April 2010. Photo Credit: Alan Walters/AmericaSpace

All but Glover had flown long-duration ISS increments earlier in their astronaut careers, but it proved somewhat ironic that Noguchi—the non-American member of Crew-1—to be alone among them in having actually launched from the Space Coast. He also flew Discovery on STS-114 in July 2005, the first shuttle mission after the Columbia disaster. “Dragon is the best, is the short answer,” he said upon being asked which ship he preferred the most.

Crew-1 rose perfectly from historic Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) at 7:27 p.m. EST Sunday, the nine Merlin 1D+ first-stage engines of SpaceX’s venerable Falcon 9 pushing Dragon Resilience uphill. “Absolutely incredible,” was all Hopkins could say about the experience. “That vehicle really gets off the ground.”

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He recalled listening to the noises and vibrations of the 230-foot-tall (70-meter) booster before launch, the sense in his mind that “it wants to get off the ground”, and both he and Glover remarked that the throttle-down of the Merlins to pass through the region of maximum aerodynamic pressure (“Max Q”) was definitely noticeable.

“Staging was dynamic,” Glover said of the separation of the B1061 core at 2.5 minutes into the flight. And since the Falcon 9’s second stage was much closer to Dragon Resilience, the impulse of its single Merlin 1D+ Vacuum engine afforded them a much closer and far more “personal” kick as they headed for orbit. Hopkins added that there was a “slow, steady build-up of G’s” as the second stage accelerated harder and harder.

The astronauts noticed the definitive push of the Merlin 1D+ Vacuum engine of the Falcon 9’s second stage, which was located much closer to the spacecraft. Photo Credit: NASA

A former U.S. Navy test pilot, Glover has over 3,000 flying hours in high-performance aircraft and a wealth of experience in working in high-G environments. He described the ascent as “not the highest G I’ve ever felt, but probably for the longest duration”, which he considered “truly amazing”.

Passing an altitude of 62 miles (100 km), the boundary for the edge of space, according to the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI), his crewmates congratulated him on becoming the United States’ newest astronaut. Later, during the cruise to the ISS, Hopkins touchingly awarded Glover his gold pin as a “flown” astronaut.

Over-the-shoulder view behind Commander Mike Hopkins (left) and Pilot Victor Glover during last night’s rendezvous and docking. Photo Credit: NASA

Glover said there were “no words” to describe his first view of Earth from space, describing it as a “once-in-a-lifetime feeling”. And despite a number of issues during the first few hours of the flight, Dragon Resilience docked smoothly at IDA-2 at 11:01 p.m. EST Monday.

After the completion of pressurization and leak checks, the hatches were opened and first Hopkins, then Glover, then Walker and finally Noguchi floated into the ISS to hugs and handshakes from Rubins and her Russian Expedition 64 crewmates Sergei Ryzhikov and Sergei Kud-Sverchkov, who have been aboard the station since mid-October.

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But for Rubins, the most exciting moment was seeing Glover—the rookie—cross the hatch for the first time. “I was so excited to see Ike’s face coming through that hatch,” she said, using Glover’s nickname, which equates to “I Know Everything”.

Her first words to him: “Oh my gosh, you’re here!”

Dragon Resilience emerges from the darkness to dock at the station. Photo Credit: NASA

Two days after Crew-1’s arrival, the ISS is a busier place, with a long-duration crew of seven astronauts and cosmonauts for the first time in its history. And with only six quarters currently aboard—four in the Harmony node and two in the Russian segment—there was one berth short for Hopkins, who elected to pitch his sleeping bag aboard Resilience for now. It is expected that a seventh crew quarters will arrive later in his stay.

But with so much early work pulling cargo and emergency equipment out of Crew Dragon, he expects that it will take some time to set it up as his bedroom. He has reduced the temperature a little, and praises the “roomy” nature of the spacecraft, but remains keenly aware that as well as being his bedroom it is also his crew’s ride home, too.

View from Dragon Resilience during her final approach towards the IDA-2 docking port. At left can be seen Europe’s Columbus lab, at right Japan’s Kibo lab. Photo Credit: NASA

“An important piece of it,” Hopkins said, “that I don’t want to ever forget.” And with a nod back to the shuttle commanders who came before him, Hopkins acknowledges that “it just felt right” to bed down on the flight deck of his trusty ship.

Glover, on the other hand, has proven more lucky, one might think. “My brain is constantly trying to figure out where up is,” he joked, making light-hearted reference to the difficulty experienced by first-time astronauts in gaining their “space legs” in the peculiar microgravity environment.

Kate Rubins configures the IDA-2 hatch for crew ingress. Photo Credit: NASA

To make Glover’s life better (or perhaps to acclimatize him more quickly), his crewmates put him in the crew quarters in Harmony’s “ceiling”. About a day after his arrival, Glover headed down to many ISS residents’ favorite place—the multi-windowed cupola—for a daytime glimpse of Earth. And the sight was profound. It “heightens an awareness,” he said, “that the planet needs protection.”

With seven long-duration crew members aboard, “you can tell that it’s a lot fuller here,” said Walker, who previously flew as part of a six-person increment on her last ISS visit in 2010.

Clad in red polo shirts, the Crew-1 astronauts prepare for Tuesday’s historic welcoming ceremony. Photo Credit: NASA

And in reference to plans for movie star Tom Cruise to visit the station next fall, she emphasized the importance of being organized. “If you’re not organized,” she said, “you’re gonna lose your stuff in no time, flat.” Already, Crew-1 has hit the ground running, with Hopkins working with the station’s glovebox, and there is an expectation that a huge amount of research—perhaps 70 hours per week—will be possible with a larger crew.  

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