Four astronauts with a cumulative 506 days in space between them, more than 7,900 orbits of Earth and over 33 hours of spacewalking are set to launch from historic Pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida as early as 7:49 p.m. EST Saturday. As outlined in a recent AmericaSpace article, Commander Mike Hopkins and Pilot Victor Glover bring a wealth of test-flying and engineering expertise to Crew-1, the first operational crew-rotation mission of Crew Dragon to the International Space Station (ISS).
Seated alongside them aboard Dragon Resilience are two steely-eyed veterans of long-duration spaceflight, Mission Specialists Shannon Walker and Soichi Noguchi. And it is something of an irony that the only member of Crew-1 to have previously launched from Florida is Noguchi, the sole non-American member of the team.
Noguchi was born in the port city of Yokohama, south of Tokyo, on 15 April 1965. After high school in Chigasaki, he attended the University of Tokyo and earned a degree in aeronautical engineering in 1989 and a master’s credential in 1991. He subsequently joined the research and development department of Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy Industries as an engineer, working with the aero-engine and space operations division with an emphasis upon the aerodynamic design of commercial engines.
Noguchi was selected as an astronaut candidate by the National Space Development Agency of Japan (NASDA)—today’s Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA)—in June 1996. Two months later, he joined the ranks of NASA’s astronaut corps and began a comprehensive training course which qualified him for shuttle and ISS missions.
In August 2001, Noguchi was named as a Mission Specialist on STS-114, a planned logistics and resupply flight to the station which was only a month from liftoff when Columbia was destroyed during re-entry on 1 February 2003.
The crew would have also brough home the Expedition Six team and delivered Expedition Seven in their place to continue a period of continuous habitation of the ISS which endures to this day. STS-114 featured Noguchi in the “EV1” role, making him the first Japanese astronaut ever to serve as lead spacewalker on a session of Extravehicular Activity (EVA).
As described in a previous AmericaSpace article, Noguchi took great pride in the role. “I’m responsible for all phases of EVA from training to the specific operation procedures,” he said. “I feel that I’m the one who is fully in charge of the EVA process from the beginning, including training, to the end, through debriefing after we’ve landed.”
Sadly, with the loss of STS-107, Noguchi’s mission was a long time coming. By the time he eventually flew aboard shuttle Discovery in July 2005, STS-114 had evolved into a very different mission: although its logistics and resupply component was similar to the original, Noguchi and his fellow crewmates had to complete a comprehensive survey of the Thermal Protection System (TPS) as the fleet stumbled back to its feet.
All told, Noguchi logged 20 hours and five minutes of spacewalking time in three sessions of EVA. He assisted with evaluating new tile-repair methods, replaced a Control Moment Gyroscope (CMG) and installed an External Stowage Platform (ESP) onto the ISS. Discovery returned safely to Earth after 14 days in orbit.
In November 2008, Noguchi was assigned to Expedition 22/23 and flew a six-month mission to the space station, launching in December 2009 aboard Soyuz TMA-17 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Flying shoulder-to-shoulder with Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kotov and NASA astronaut Timothy “T.J.” Creamer, Noguchi initially formed part of Expedition 22, before rotating into Expedition 23 in March 2010.
He became only the second Japanese astronaut (and the first from JAXA) to launch aboard a Soyuz spacecraft. During his crew’s time aboard the ISS, they were visited by three shuttle missions and Noguchi, Kotov and Creamer returned to Earth in June 2010 after 163 days.
Following his second mission, Noguchi served as chief of JAXA’s astronaut corps from 2012 through 2016. In November 2017, he was assigned initially to the Expedition 62/63 crew, with an expectation that he would launch late in 2019. However, as the ISS crewing situation shifted and changed, in March 2020 he was reassigned to Expedition 64 and became the first International Partner (IP) to gain a seat on a Commercial Crew vehicle.
Also assigned in March was Shannon Walker, a veteran of one previous long-duration mission. Born in Houston, Texas, on 4 June 1965, Walker studied physics at Rice University and earned her degree in 1987. She then joined the Rockwell Space Operations Company at NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Texas, as a robotics flight controller for the shuttle program. Walker took a leave of absence in 1990 to return to Rice in pursuit of graduate studies. She achieved a master’s degree and doctorate in space physics in 1992 and 1993, respectively, with a research emphasis upon the interaction of the solar wind with the atmosphere of Venus.
Upon receipt of her PhD, Walker returned to NASA in a variety of roles within the ISS Program at JSC, working robotics integration and in 1998 joined the ISS Mission Evaluation Room (MER) as a manger for co-ordinating on-orbit problem resolution on the steadily-growing station. Subsequent positions of increasing responsibility saw her rise to become technical lead of the MET and deputy and acting manager of the On-Orbit Engineering Office.
Selected by NASA as an astronaut candidate in May 2004, Walker completed two years of training and evaluation, before entering a number of technical roles within the astronaut office. In November 2008, she was named to Expedition 24/25 and flew a six-month mission to the space station, launching in June 2010 aboard Soyuz TMA-19 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. Walker returned to Earth the following November after 163 days in space.
Over the next several years, she completed a variety of different activities in the astronaut office, commanding the 15th NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO-15) in the Aquarius undersea lab in October 2011 and serving as assistant to the chief of the astronaut office for the ISS Program. In March 2017, she was named as backup to Joe Acaba for his short-notice ISS increment on Expedition 53/54.
In spite of speculation that Walker might draw a spot on Soyuz MS-12 in March 2019, that position ultimately went to Christina Koch and it was not until March 2020 that her assignment to the Crew-1 was made public. Although Mike Hopkins and Victor Glover are responsible for the command duties aboard Dragon Resilience, both Noguchi and Walker have trained extensively to back them up.
“They’re backing up Hopkins and Glover and are largely on monitoring duties,” NASA’s Dan Huot told AmericaSpace. “Hopkins and Glover are prime for any manual response to issues on-board Dragon and would perform any manual maneuvers. All crew members are prepared to respond/perform tasks in a number of off-nominal events like fires that would require total crew involvement.”