After months living and working in space, NASA’s SpaceX Crew-3 astronauts are nearing the end of their mission and ready to come home.
NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn and Kayla Barron and European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Matthias Maurer launched with the SpaceX Crew-3 mission on Nov. 10. Now, their mission aboard the International Space Station is approaching an end, and the astronauts are preparing to return to Earth. As the crew said during a news conference held Friday (April 15), they have had an amazing mission but are excited to come home.
“It’s been a huge honor to be living and working aboard the International Space Station,” Marshburn, the only veteran astronaut of the crew, said today.
Live updates: SpaceX’s Crew-3 astronaut mission for NASA
The crew will return to Earth later this month, sometime after the next SpaceX crewed mission to the station, Crew-4, arrives and they hand over the station to the newcomers. With Crew-4’s launch being delayed to April 23, the exact date for Crew-3’s return has not yet been set. But it will be soon, and the astronauts are excited.
“I think we’re all really looking forward to seeing our loved ones, our family and friends on the ground who were so instrumental in supporting us throughout our lives and getting us to this point,” Barron said.
“I can’t wait to see my wife and kids,” Marshburn said. “I get goosebumps just thinking about actually that moment of getting to see them. To see the pictures of my kids, how much they’ve grown in six months — they’re younger, it’s pretty amazing and makes you realize how much you missed.”
Marshburn is also looking forward to “a hot bath,” he added with a grin. “I think we’d all like that.”
The crew shared fun details of their journey through space, including Chari’s mustache, which he said he grew while in space as part of an Air Force tradition. Chari, who commanded Crew-3, said that the look is typically reserved for March but he couldn’t grow one then because of spacewalks.
The crew also revealed some of the work they’ve done while on board. Maurer pointed specifically to the impact of the research done on station to our understanding of climate change, including a recent experiment aiming to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the process of producing concrete.
Other than Marshburn, the crew was made up of rookie flyers making their first visit to the station. They told Space.com during the same news conference that they are eager to return to space, although they might do things a little differently next time.
“I would absolutely love to come [back] to the International Space Station,” Barron said. “I think it’s been such an honor for us to be a part of this incredible engineering and scientific vehicle that has been up here for 20 plus years — what an incredible legacy to be a part of.”
She added that she’ll carry lessons the crew learned early in this mission to future flights. “You feel a lot of pressure, when you first get up here trying to keep up with all the tasks,” she said. “We have really busy schedules, and when you’re doing something for the first time, it always takes longer.”
Living in microgravity required many little adjustments, she said. “I would hope that next time we’re a little bit more prepared for some of those challenges.”
Chari said that, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the crew didn’t get to meet in person the scientists whose research the astronauts conducted in orbit, which he hopes to do for future missions.
“It’s amazing science we get to do, but it’d be really even better if you got to meet the people you’re talking to in person,” Chari said. “We’re making life-changing discoveries up here on the behalf of the scientists and engineers who thought of these things, but we only get to hear them over the radio.”
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Private astronaut crewmates
Marshburn additionally shared that, while the crew has had “a lot of work to do over the last several months working through Expedition 66 and 67,” he said, “we’ve had a lot of fun as well: three spacewalks, robotic operations, lots of visiting vehicles and, of course, the first private astronaut mission.”
The private astronaut mission Marshburn is referring to is Ax-1, Axiom Space’s first crewed mission and the first fully private crewed mission ever sent to the station, which launched the crew aboard a SpaceX Dragon atop a Falcon 9 on April 8.
“Those crewmates are with us on board right now,” he said.
“There’s definitely a difference in the amount of training and the experience,” Chari said of the visitors. “But we definitely feel that they are able to take care of themselves.”
But is it getting cramped yet? “I don’t think we found [them[ intrusive,” he said. “The station’s a pretty big place, it’s about the size of five bedroom house.”