For the first time, seven crew members – and Baby Yoda – are living on the International Space Station for an extended stay of six months.
After launching on Sunday, NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover Jr., Shannon Walker and Soichi Noguchi, an astronaut with Japan’s space agency, were welcomed aboard the space station early Tuesday by NASA astronaut Kate Rubins and Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov.
And perhaps no one is more excited than Glover. It’s the astronaut’s first trip to space – and by all accounts, he hasn’t stopped smiling since he arrived.
Glover is the first full-time Black crew member on the space station.
“When the engine cut off and we were in orbit, it was surreal,” Glover said in a news conference from the space station Thursday. “I’ve seen a ton of pictures, but when I first looked out the window at Earth, I had no words. It was an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime feeling.”
The rest of his crew has been just as excited. When they hit zero gravity, his crew turned to Glover and said, “We’re in space!”
And as Glover came through the hatch, Rubins rushed to greet him and threw her hands out. “Oh my, God, you’re here!” she shouted gleefully.
Floating for an extended period of time is new to Glover. Previously, he’s experienced a few seconds of floating as a Navy test pilot. “But floating for an extended period is truly amazing,” he said. “My brain is constantly trying to figure out which way is up. It’s an interesting challenge, one I find slightly amusing. I’m writing notes so I can look back on this later.”
Glover said he’s experienced a wealth of emotions. Approaching the space station inspired awe and happiness, but he’s also eager to get to work and contribute.
An advocate for social justice and protecting the planet, Glover said this journey to the space station has strengthened his resolve.
“I believe that what I’ve said and what I’ve tried to work for is just what’s right. To be honest and upfront with people, and then to work for what’s right.” he said. “And I think that doing the right thing is always in order. So looking at the planet from this perspective – to see the Earth and these beautiful land masses and oceans without lines or words drawn on them – it just heightens an awareness that the planet needs protection, and human life needs protection, and we are the ones who have to protect it.”
“I hope this (mission) inspires people to literally and figuratively look up, especially as 2020 comes to a close.”
It’s getting a little crowded on the orbiting laboratory, but in a good way.
“It’s busy in a great way,” Rubins said. “There is energy up here and people zooming by. There is so much going on at the space station. And we’ll be able to accomplish a huge amount of research. The amount of scientific output from this mission will be incredible.”
Rubins sounded relieved. Astronauts also spend a significant portion of their time performing space station maintenance, in addition to running hundreds of science experiments.
The crew estimates it will take them a few weeks to adjust to having five people on the US side of the space station.
“There have been some traffic jams through modules going from place to place,” Walker said.
“We need to figure out how five people work around here without running into each other,” Hopkins added.
The crew has been busy since coming through the hatch early Tuesday morning. Once they get settled, the crew will jump into dividing up the wealth of experiments currently on the station and prepare for more that will launch on December 2.
“Science investigators have been waiting a long time for this moment,” Hopkins said. “We’re going to see just how much science can come out of this space station.”
Sleeping in a spaceship
Hopkins is going to have an unusual sleeping arrangement compared to the rest of his colleagues. While their crew quarters are on the space station, Hopkins will be staying in the Resilience capsule, docked with the space station.
The crew has spent the last two days moving cargo out of it so he can move in.
Hopkins served as the commander of the SpaceX Crew vehicle for launch.
During the Shuttle era, it was tradition for the commander of the shuttle ferrying components and supplies to the space station to sleep on the shuttle, Hopkins said, so “it just felt right” for him to continue the custom.
And the slightly cooler temperatures of the vehicle suit him just fine.
However, Hopkins is wary of protecting the spacecraft since it’s their ride home in six months.
“One of the things I’m conscious about as I spend time in there is I don’t want to do anything to damage it as I go in and out,” Hopkins said. “I may be using that as my bedroom, but it’s also what will get us home.”
Hopkins said he will likely spend less time in the craft than he would if he had his own crew quarters on the space station.
Baby Yoda’s wild ride
While the mission is a historic first among the partnership for NASA and SpaceX and the agency’s Commercial Crew program, some of the thunder has been stolen by none other than Baby Yoda.
Viewers tuning in to watch the launch Sunday night noticed Baby Yoda spinning through the cabin of the Resilience spacecraft. The toy served as a zero gravity indicator. It’s a long-standing tradition of spaceflight where each crew selects a toy to ride along for the launch. When the toy begins to float in the cabin, the crew knows they’ve reached space.
The Crew-1 astronauts decided on Baby Yoda after watching “The Mandalorian” series.
“It’s hard not to like Baby Yoda,” Hopkins said. “It ties in with the name of our spacecraft, Resilience. It’s been a tough year. The fact that NASA and SpaceX could get us ready to go throughout this year and the pandemic, we were inspired by everyone’s resilience.”
Hopkins talked about the inspiration factor of spaceflight, especially during a year like 2020.
“Baby Yoda does the same thing, he puts a smile on everyone’s face,” Hopkins said. “It seemed appropriate for our crew as well. We like to have a lot of fun and we have. Although I think the ride into space was a little rougher than what Baby Yoda is used to, compared to what he rides normally.”
That said, if you’ve seen the latest episodes of “The Mandalorian,” Din Djarin (played by Pedro Pascal) and his Razor Crest spacecraft aren’t exactly known for gently cruising through the galaxy far, far away.