NASA astronaut Josh Cassada was having a bad Monday morning.
Working on the International Space Station (ISS) has its unglamorous moments, including mandatory restroom stops to collect samples for human health studies. But just before this “miserable process” began, Cassada said on Wednesday (March 1), colleague Nicole Mann told him to look out the cupola window next door.
Glorious green auroras were blanketing the Earth below. Cassada quickly grabbed a camera on Monday (Feb. 27) to snap a picture that has since racked up 3.3 million views on Twitter (opens in new tab).
“We just soaked it all in,” Cassada recalled during a live press conference with SpaceX Crew-5 astronauts from the ISS. “I was just feeling a little guilty that we weren’t in a position … to describe what we received. It was really remarkable.”
Early Thursday morning (March 2), another set of astronauts should be on the way to join Cassada and his fellow ISS crewmates: SpaceX’s Crew-6 mission is scheduled to lift off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 12:34 a.m. EST (0534 GMT). You can watch that live here on Space.com.
Related: Live updates about SpaceX’s Crew-6 mission for NASA
More: Meet the SpaceX Crew-6 astronauts
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Spacecraft swaps have been on Cassada’s mind lately, actually, as he had to take a wrench to his Crew Dragon, a capsule named Endurance, to fit in an extra crew member in January.
Endurance needed to accommodate a potential fifth passenger in case of emergency — NASA astronaut Frank Rubio. His ride home, Russia’s Soyuz MS-22 spacecraft, was crippled by a leak that spilled all its coolant into space on Dec. 14, 2022.
If an emergency ISS evacuation were needed, Russia determined, two of the three crew members of MS-22 could safely come home in the Soyuz; uncomfortable as they would be, heat would not be a safety issue. But Rubio would need to find a way to squeeze into Endurance beneath the four seats already occupied by Cassada and his Crew-5 colleagues.
“Frank and I worked together to install that,” Cassada told Space.com. “It was really cool to work through.”
Related: How many astronauts can fly on a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule?
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Cassada helped Rubio fetch a seat liner from the Soyuz, along with some straps from a docked SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft; both were needed to secure Rubio on the floor safely. During installation they spoke with Japan’s Akihiko Hoshide, a Crew-2 astronaut who did the whole procedure on the ground as a practice round.
“We were able to work very closely with him. There were a couple of differences as we were putting the wrenches in place,” Cassada continued. “We had loads of clearance issues that weren’t apparent and awkward. We worked through it, and got Frank a great little seat.”
On the floor, Rubio’s view would be limited mostly to feet and spacesuits, but Cassada said the perch nevertheless “looks pretty comfy.” The real benefit during the landing would be a bit of quiet, Cassada added. “He doesn’t have to hear us talk. He doesn’t have a headset … so he’s not going to hear us run our mouths up there in that seat.”
Fortunately, a fresh and uncrewed Soyuz safely arrived on Saturday (Feb. 26), and the seat liner for Rubio is now in place in the new spacecraft, alongside the liners of his Russian colleagues. (Rubio and his Soyuz MS-22 crewmates’ ISS mission will be delayed until September to complete a crew rotation, which requires sending yet another Soyuz aloft from Russia with three people on board.)
With the end of Crew-5 drawing near, Cassada and his crewmates reflected on lighter moments of representing their countries in space.
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Japan’s Koichi Wakata told Space.com he is thrilled to welcome two new astronauts representing his country, who will likely join moon missions with the NASA-led Artemis program: “They’re joining us to extend the human frontier in space, so I really expect them to work hard,” he joked.
Russia’s Anna Kikina shared her recipe for keeping long hair clean and fluffy in space: take an hour of her allotted spare time, lather up, then run her hair in water three times. “Rinse, rinse, rinse after shampoo.”
And most of all, the four Crew-5 astronauts talked about their readiness to come home, be with friends and family, and feel fresh air again. “I’m really excited to feel the wind on my face, to smell the grass in the air and to taste all the delicious food back on Earth,” said NASA’s Nicole Mann, the Crew-5 commander.
Crew-5 launched toward the ISS on Oct. 5, 2022. The mission is expected to come home to Earth about five days after Crew-6 arrives at the station.
Elizabeth Howell is the co-author of “Why Am I Taller (opens in new tab)?” (ECW Press, 2022; with Canadian astronaut Dave Williams), a book about space medicine. Follow her on Twitter @howellspace (opens in new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in new tab) or Facebook (opens in new tab).