ISS welcomes new crewmembers with SpaceX Crew-3 arrival

Yesterday, we mentioned that SpaceX and NASA have finally successfully launched the Crew-3 mission, sending four new astronauts to live on the ISS. The successful launch came after several delays due to weather and other issues. Crew-3 was supposed to have launched on October 31, and it was then delayed until November 3 before finally launching on November 10. Crew-3 finally docked with the ISS 30 minutes ahead of schedule on Thursday, November 11 at 6:32 PM.Docking occurred less than 24 hours after launching from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Aboard the Crew Dragon Endurance spacecraft were Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn, Kayla Barron from NASA, and ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer. NASA says the hatch of Endurance was opened at 8:25 PM, and the welcoming ceremony with the other Expedition 66 crewmembers happened at 9 PM.

The photo seen above was taken at the welcome ceremony. Aboard the ISS when the Crew-3 astronauts arrived were Mark Vande Hei, Anton Shkaplerov (Expedition 66 commander), and Pyotr Dubrov. The arrival of the astronauts at the ISS marks the third crew rotation mission SpaceX has conducted. Expedition 66 continues until April 2022.

With the multiple delays in the launch of Crew-3, NASA decided to return the Crew-2 astronauts to Earth using the Crew Dragon that took them into orbit. Crew-2 astronauts splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico near Pensacola, Florida, without issue. Crew-2 launched on April 23, 2021, docking with the ISS on April 24, 2021. Crew-2 carried NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough, NASA astronaut Megan McArthur, JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency), astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, and ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Thomas Pesquet.

One notable moment in the Crew-2 mission was a spacewalk conducted by Hoshide and Pesquet, which was the first spacewalk conducted at the ISS without an American or Russian participating. The biggest problem that prevented Crew-3 from launching in October or early November was the weather.

One of the astronauts aboard Crew-3 also had an undisclosed medical issue described as minor. That issue did clear up before the flight could launch. NASA was forced to abandon Crew-3 launch opportunities on November 6 and November 7. Unfavorable weather conditions were NASA's main concern in both instances, including high winds at liftoff and clouds. The weather concern on November 7 at launch abort sites on the eastern seaboard of the US.

One of the oddest problems that NASA and SpaceX have faced in recent memory is defects in the design of the toilet aboard the Crew Dragon capsule. Those defects were first seen during the Inspiration4 mission that put civilian astronauts into orbit for several days. Those astronauts relied on the toilet aboard the Crew Dragon capsule more than any past mission.

During the flight, alarms sounded aboard the capsule, noting a problem with the toilet. The problem had to do with a tube that directed liquid waste into a holding tank detaching. The tube out of place allowed liquid waste to get into the fans used to create negative pressure in the system. Ultimately, the liquid waste found its way under the floor panels of the Crew Dragon spacecraft.

While the leaking waste didn't impact the crew at all, it was confirmed by SpaceX engineers when the capsule had returned to Earth. The problem required a redesign and approval from NASA. SpaceX welded the tube in place. However, the Crew Dragon capsule that returned the Crew-2 astronauts to Earth didn't have the fix in place, and astronauts weren't allowed to use the toilet. Instead, they were issued diapers for the return flight.