Astronauts aboard the ISS began the process of grappling the Dragon CRS-11 spacecraft this morning at 0830R (8:30 a.m. ET). Peggy Whitson and Jack Fischer, of Expedition 52, are working to berth the spacecraft to the Harmony module of the ISS.
The CRS-11 mission launched Saturday, 3 June, after an initial launch window was scrubbed on Thursday, 1 June, due to inclement weather. In spite of a launch likelihood calculation that reached as high as 60% the morning of 3 June, the weather around Kennedy Space Center cleared significantly and the launch placed the Dragon craft into orbit without incident, with the Falcon 9’s first stage returning to the launchpad under its own power. The CRS-11 mission marks the first time a reused launcher was paired with a reused spacecraft, considered critical milestones in the private space industry’s quest to achieve dramatically lower launch costs government programs.
It’s been a busy few days for the flight engineers aboard the space station. On Friday 2 June, ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet and Roscomos’s Oleg Novitskiy returned to Earth in a Soyuz capsule that landed in Kazakhstan, and the crew transitioned from Expedition 51 to expedition 52, under the command of Roscosmos’ Commander Fyodor Yurchikhin. He and Colonel Jack Fischer arrived at the ISS in April, while Dr. Whitson has been aboard since last November. She will leave the station with the most consecutive days in space of any woman, and also holds the records for the most EVAs (extravehicular activities, or “spacewalks”) of any female astronaut.
The Dragon module brought supplies and science to the ISS, including a NICER neutron star compositor. The NICER array will be externally mounted to the ISS and will study the incredibly dense neutron stars, specifically “pulsars”, the regular radiation pulses of which are thought to be useful navigation tools as humans venture further into deep space.