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Crew-7 Soars, setting the stage for Science and Discovery

(L to R) Konstantin Borisov (Roscosmos), Adreas Mogensen (ESA), Jasmin Moghbeli (NASA) and Satoshi Furukawa (JAXA) emerge from the doors of NASA’s Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout, ready to say goodbye the their families and friends before boarding their transportation to the launch pad.
Credit: David Diebold

On August 27th, 2023 at 9:16 AM Eastern Standard Time, Crew Dragon Endurance docked to the Zenith port of the Harmony Module of the International Space Station, completing a 24 hour rendezvous after liftoff. Crew-7, the seventh operational rotation mission under the Commercial Crew Program, consists of a truly multinational crew – each astronaut flying representing a different ISS partner.

Falcon 9 performs its boostback burn, turning away from the second stage and Dragon as it heads back to Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.
Credit: David Diebold

Following a delay on Friday for ECLSS issues on Dragon Endurance, the crew lifted off from Historic Launch Complex 39A at 3:27:27 AM EST on August 26th, with their booster B1081 returning to the launch site after a successful maiden flight. RTLS maneuvers for crew missions have been possible since Axiom-2, with Falcon 9’s flight software being optimized for additional performance. 

The crew launched into some uncertainty, with the port side Solar Alpha Rotary Joint on Station having issues tracking the sun, causing potential drops in power for the orbiting laboratory. As of Saturday, August 26th at 9:43 PM, the array was freed and locked in the 90 degree position for crew arrival. 

Following separation from the upper stage after successful orbital insertion, Dragon Endurance conducted a series of phasing burns, bringing the vehicle in line with the ISS. These burns match the orbit of the spacecraft to Station, allowing the vehicles to get close enough to initiate approach. At 7km away from the ISS, Dragon initiates approach procedures, a carefully orchestrated series of thruster burns to bring the two spacecraft together. The next key milestone is Keep Out Sphere entry, the 1 km ellipsoid which governs final approach. Just prior to docking, the crew enter the CHOP – the Crew Hands Off Point, where all of Dragon’s automated systems take over. Crew-7 approached the station from the top of the station, or the Zenith direction, while Crew-6’s Dragon remains docked to the forward port of the station for the next week. Endurance, after just over a day in space, then docked to the ISS, delivering her crew to their home away from home for the next 6 months. 

This diagram lays out the current configuration of the ISS.
Credit: NASA

Following equalization, the crew of Endurance boarded the station and were greeted by their compatriots in the Harmony module, bringing the total on-station crew to 11. The crew will now get to work contributing their expertise and know-how to the science and maintenance of life in space, supporting nearly 23 years of continuous human habitation in Low Earth Orbit. 

It was all smiles aboard the International Space Station during the Crew arrival ceremonies to welcome Crew 7 aboard.
Credit: NASA TV

Thoughts from the Pad/Walkout (David):

The stars shining bright overhead, bright white lights illuminating those famous doors at the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout building. It’s deep into the night, just minutes past midnight on August 26th, 2023.

12:06:00, the seconds are counting down. 

12:06:30, half a minute to go. Security guards standing by ready to roll out. 

12:06:45, crew family members anxiously awaiting their loved ones.

12:06:50, the media members count down in their heads, ready at their equipment.

12:07:00, the doors open. Cameras chatter away, flashes strobe. The loved ones cheer and wave.

Jasmin Moghbeli, a smile beaming across her face excitedly waves to her family.
Adreas Mogensen, scans the crowds, beaming big smiles to his family.
Konstantin Borisov gives the whole media cadre waves and smiles, then turns to his family.
Satoshi Furukawa briefly waves around, then smiles wide at his family.

Crew-7’s journey has begun.

The excitement for SpaceX’s 7th crew rotation mission to the international space station was much the same as the previous missions I’ve covered as media, notably Crew’s 5 & 6. But Crew 7 had something a little more special about it, something you could see and feel very easily during remote camera setup, and at the press site in the final hours before launch. The varying nationalities; people from across the globe, there to support their explorer from home. Japanese, Russian, Danish and American all there to see off their countrymen/women. A truly international collaboration, and a unique one in the commercial crew missions to date.

2 hours to launch:
A group from ESA and JAXA pose in the NASA press center for a group photo, smiles abound. 

1 hour to launch. 
I’m offsite to photograph the launch by this time, but before I left, the press site was abuzz with activity, photographers and media flitting and moving about setting gear and getting ready.

30 minutes to launch. 
The excitement with the general public was much the same. SR-528 near Port Canaveral was lined with cars; spectators patiently waiting in their vehicles and folding chairs for 3:27:27am.

10 minutes to launch. 
My final test shots done, I begin counting the minutes and seconds down for those around me. 

10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1…

A flash grows into an expansive glow; night turns to day for just a few brief minutes.

Crew-7 embarks into the clear Florida night, with the support of 4 nations backing their ride into the skies.

End with possibly my streak shot with the stars. I wrote this to build up to it.

As seen from 14 miles south of Historic Launch Complex 39a, Falcon 9 and Crew Dragon Endurance streaked into the starry night sky sending Crew 7 skywards to the International Space Station.
Credit: David Diebold

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