Astronaut shuffle, private ISS mission and Artemis test will make April very busy in spaceflight

The ISS will welcome its first all-private mission and NASA is preparing for the final test of its Artemis rocket

Buckle up, space fans. This spring will be a busy one for launches, human spaceflight and moon rockets.

Here's a look at the upcoming events in spaceflight that will unfold in April. Of course, there is always the chance of a delay due to weather or technical issues. Stay with FOX Weather for the latest updates on the busy space schedule.

March 30: NASA astronaut returns after a record-breaking stay in space

Just days before the busy month in spaceflight begins, NASA Astronaut Mark Vande Hei will return to Earth on Wednesday. Since he arrived at the International Space Station on April 9, 2021, the veteran NASA astronaut has missed nearly a year of holidays, family gatherings and the second year of a global pandemic.

Vande Hei will hold the record for the longest American spaceflight at 355 days by the end of his mission. During his career, he has spent more than 520 days in space.

Vande Hei said he promised his wife that this would be his last spaceflight.

Russian cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Pyotr Dubrov and NASA's Vande Hei will close the hatch to the Soyuz spacecraft at midnight. March 30 and begin undocking from the International Space Station at 3:21 a.m. 

The crew will touch down in Kazakstan at 7:28 a.m. ET (5:28 p.m. local time), where they will be greeted by NASA and Roscosmos teams.

April 3: Artemis-1 wet dress rehearsal 

NASA's Space Launch System rocket and the Orion spacecraft that will launch NASA astronauts to lunar orbit in the next few years are vertical at Kennedy Space Center launchpad 39B awaiting the final test before its maiden space voyage. 

Teams at KSC are preparing the rocket for a final test known as the wet dress rehearsal (WDR), which involves loading the rocket with fuel and practicing the complete countdown to work out any issues before the bird leaves the pad. 

While the bulk of the test is happening on April 3, Launch Director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson said it takes about two days because 700,000 gallons of super-cold fuel need to be loaded into the rocket.

April 6: Axiom-1 launch

Next, four men will launch in a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft on the first all-private mission to the space station. 

The ride to ISS is through Axiom Space, and three of the crew members purchased tickets to spend about a week on the ISS, living and working as astronauts do.

NASA and SpaceX are targeting April 6 at 12:05 p.m. ET to launch Axiom Mission-1.

Former NASA Astronaut turned Axiom Space vice president Michael López-Alegría will join three private citizens as the mission commander.

Mid-April: Axiom-1 splashdown

The Axiom-1 mission will last about 10 days from launch to landing. After the Crew Dragon docks at the ISS, mission managers will begin looking at the weather off Florida's coasts to determine the best landing window.

The four private space explorers are expected to spend eight days living on the ISS before returning with a splashdown on Earth. 

April 19: Crew-4 launch

NASA is targeting no earlier than April 19 to send up the next group of astronauts to live and work on the ISS for about six months. This will mark the fourth operational mission under the agency's Commercial Crew Program, under which NASA buys rides for its astronauts from SpaceX.

The Crew-4 mission includes NASA astronauts Kjell Lindgren, Bob Hines and Jessica Watkins and European Space Agency astronaut Samantha Cristoforetti.

Crew-4 will be launching in a new Dragon. It's tradition for the first crew to name the spacecraft, and this week it was revealed the new spacecraft would be known as Freedom. SpaceX's other astronaut spacecraft are called Endeavour and Resilience and Endurance.

April or May: Crew-3 astronauts return to Earth

While NASA is preparing to send up four astronauts, it is also planning to bring home the four Crew-3 astronauts who arrived at the space station in November are set to return home in April or May.

Looking forward to May: Boeing Starliner orbital flight test 

Boeing, another contractor in NASA's Commercial Crew Program, is preparing to conduct the final test for its astronaut spacecraft, the CST-100 Starliner, before launching astronauts to the space station.

NASA, Boeing and United Launch Alliance are looking at possible launch opportunities in May for the orbital flight test-2 or OFT-2.

Starliner will launch on the United Launch Alliance Atlas V from Cape Canaveral. The capsule will then catch up to the ISS, dock and remain there for a few days before returning. The OFT-2 will test the spacecraft's abilities from launch to landing before NASA certifies it to fly humans. 

The company has twice attempted to make the journey. 

A December 2019 attempt made it to orbit after launch, but the spacecraft returned to Earth 48 hours later because of a computer timing error. Boeing attempted to launch Starliner to the space station in August 2021. However, early in the countdown, teams detected an issue with the valves in the spacecraft's abort system. The attempt was called off, and Boeing worked to resolve the problem.