Dubai: All in the UAE will be waiting with bated breath for the successful launch on Wednesday and subsequent arrival this week at the International Space Station (ISS) by Emirati astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi’s Crew-6 team.
If all goes according to the schedule, everyone following the developments will be hearing space jargon such as “hatch, Harmony module, CASA and Cupola.”
What are these and how would the four-member crew including Al Neyadi, who is set for the longest Arab space mission, be welcomed to a “full house” on ISS? Here’s an explainer:
Rendezvous and docking
Rendezvous is the process of bringing two spacecraft together, often one being a space station, whereas docking is their subsequent meeting and physical joining. Once the SpaceX Crew-6 Dragon spacecraft approaches the ISS, both may undergo certain orbital maneuvers during rendezvous for successful docking.
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Provided the second launch attempt at 9.34am here on Thursday goes smooth and the Crew-6 completes their space transit that is expected to last about 24 to 25 hours, they are likely to dock to ISS at 10:17am on Friday, March 3.
The Dragon spacecraft named Endeavor will dock to the space-facing port of the station’s Harmony Module.
Also known as the Node 2, the Harmony Module is the “utility hub” of the ISS. The module acts as an internal connecting port and passageway to international science labs and cargo spacecraft. The utility hub provides air, electrical power, water, and other systems essential to support life on the station.
Apart from increasing the living and working space inside the station, its exterior also serves as a work platform for the station’s robotic arm, Canadarm2. Al Neyadi is trained to do spacewalk or Extravehicular Activity and work on Canadarm2.
Hatch at ISS
After docking, the next stage is called “Hatch opening,” which is expected to take place at 11:55am on Friday, March 3. What is a hatch at ISS? It is an opening with an operable, sealable cover that ensures the isolation of adjoining environments. It allows passage of people and cargo or equipment from one environment to the other.
A hatch at ISS is composed of two components: a hatchway (the opening itself) and a hatch cover (the piece that closes the hatchway).
A pressure hatch is one in which the atmosphere on one side of the hatch can be different from that on the opposite side of the hatch when the hatch cover is closed.
What is CASA?
The seven-member Expedition 68 crew are waiting for a few more days for the arrival of the SpaceX Crew-6 mission for Expedition 69. The four astronauts and three cosmonauts aboard ISS will soon welcome the four Crew-6 members who are counting down to a launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre in Florida on Thursday.
Once the Crew-6 members enter, there will be a welcome ceremony and the ISS will be a little crowded temporarily with its original design supporting a crew of six people at one time.
The living and working space in the station is larger than a six-bedroom house. It has six sleeping quarters, two bathrooms, a gym, and a 360-degree view bay window.
“There is going to be a full house with 11 crew members on board,” Zeb Scoville, deputy chief flight director at NASA, had said on Sunday. The maximum number of space flyers that have been aboard ISS at once is 13.
When there are more members aboard, the crew will have to organise makeshift arrangements dubbed CASA — an acronym for “Crew Alternate Sleep Accommodation.” This will see some of them sleep in their Crew Dragon capsules. Casa also means home in Spanish.
When the Crew-6 members were about to be lifted off during Monday’s launch attempt, NASA said, flight Engineers Nicole Mann of NASA and Koichi Wakata of JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) spent about an hour, readying food and sleeping bags aboard ISS for the visiting crew. Mann also relocated computers to the cupola to prepare for the upcoming rendezvous and docking monitoring operations.
What is cupola?
If the Integrated Truss Structure (ITS) reaching 108.5 meters (356 feet) in length forms the backbone of the space station, cupola is considered as the eye through which astronauts see the Earth.
It is a small observatory dome-like module designed for the observation of operations outside the station such as robotic activities, the approach of vehicles, and spacewalks. Its six side windows and a direct nadir viewing window provide spectacular views of Earth and celestial objects. The cupola also houses the robotic workstation that controls the robotic arm Canadarm2.
Al Neyadi said he would carry a camera for taking photos of watching Earth through the cupola.
“All astronauts run towards the Cupola to watch Earth or see Earth from there. I want to do it differently. I want to go there with a camera, hopefully. So I want to share that moment with everybody. I want to capture that moment of looking back, back towards Earth with everybody. Yeah, so that’s probably the moment I’m looking forward to,” he said in a NASA podcast last week.
“I want to see everything. I want to see home. The UAE; Al Ain, my hometown; I want to see the places that I visited and I liked, where I studied, for example, in the UK and in Australia; oceans, forests, mountains are all on the list. And everybody says you can’t get enough of looking back towards Earth. So I think it’s going to be everything for me.”
24.5-hour space transit
Docking to Harmony Module at 10:17am on March 3
Hatch opening at 11:55am
Welcome ceremony at 12:40pm