Crew 6 astronauts reflect on 6-month mission, favorite meals and chess match with mission control

The whole ISS crew enjoyed some competition with mission control centers around the world with ongoing chess matches. The astronauts conducted hundreds of experiments, including bioprinting the first human knee meniscus in space.

HOUSTON – Even with the busy schedule for astronauts on the International Space Station, tending to experiments, spacewalking and maintaining the orbiting laboratory, they still make time for fun.

NASA astronauts Stephen Bowen and Woody Hoburg, United Arab Emirates astronaut Sultan AlNeyadi and Roscosmos cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev spent nearly six months working and living on the International Space Station. Now back in Houston, three of the four Crew-6 mission astronauts reflected on their almost six months in space on Tuesday, a little over a week after returning to Earth, landing in the SpaceX Crew Dragon off the coast of Jacksonville.

It marked the first spaceflight for Hoburg and Al-Neyadi; both said they enjoyed looking down at Earth from the ISS cupola and sharing meals with their fellow astronauts.

Each astronaut had their favorite foods while in orbit. Bowen loved the spaghetti with meat sauce. Woody was a fan of the mac n cheese and tacos because the topping varieties "kept things interesting."

AlNeyadi said his favorite was the mango salad, but said even after six months, even your favorite foods start to get boring. The UAE astronaut also hosted an Emirates night, sharing food from his home.

The ISS crew enjoyed competition with mission control centers worldwide with a few ongoing chess games. Hoburg said the astronauts won two chess matches against mission control in Houston.

As the second person from the UAE to visit the ISS, AlNeyadi said he felt compelled to share his journey with people back on Earth. He shared videos and photos on social media throughout his spaceflight. 

"A big part of my mission was to share everything I do and talking to students through Ham radio and through calls," he said. 

On a more serious note, the astronauts conducted hundreds of experiments, furthering microgravity research and science during their time in space.

"I was never ever bored; the variety is absolutely amazing. There is so much science going on that we never even directly interact with," Bowen said. 

In July, Hoburg, Bowen, AlNeyadi, and NASA astronaut Frank Rubio used Redwire's 3D BioFabrication Facility on the space station laboratory to print a human knee meniscus. Hoburg said this experiment was particularly rewarding. 

"We actually printed the first section of meniscus ever printed in space," Hoburg said. "It actually took some trial and error; there were some setbacks along the way throughout our mission, but by the end, we had successfully printed this meniscus. That (BioFabraication) facility is going on to do some cardiac cells and some blood vessels."

The tissue returned to Earth with the astronauts, and Redwire announced last week the experiment was a success, leading the way to bioprinting more human tissues in orbit. 

Three spacewalks were conducted between the Crew 6 astronauts, with Bowen on all three. 

In April, Bowen and AlNeyadi completed a spacewalk to install insulation on mounting brackets in preparation for the installation of the next pair of International Space Station Roll Out Solar Arrays, known as iROSAs. The spacewalk was the first for AlNeyadi and anyone from the UAE.

Bowen and Hoburg completed two spacewalks in June to add new rollout solar arrays to the International Space Station as part of a series of power upgrades to the station's power grid.

For more than 22 years, humans have been working and living continuously on the International Space Station. Under NASA's Commercial Crew Program, SpaceX has launched seven human missions to the ISS for the space agency and its partners. The Crew-6 astronauts overlapped with the Crew-7 astronauts for about a week on the International Space Station, who arrived in late August, also via a SpaceX Dragon.