CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — A crew of four astronauts arrived at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida Friday (April 16) in advance of SpaceX's second operational astronaut launch for NASA.
NASA astronauts Megan McArthur and Shane Kimbrough, along with Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide and France's Thomas Pesquet, were all smiles as they stepped off a plane, after it parked on the former space shuttle runway here at KSC.
Their mission, called Crew-2, will see a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch a Crew Dragon spacecraft on a 24-hour trip to the International Space Station (ISS). Liftoff is set for April 22 at 6:11 a.m. EDT (1011 GMT) from Pad 39A here, if weather permits.
The quartet of astronauts departed from Ellington Field near NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston on Friday morning and flew to KSC aboard a charter plane. Upon arrival, they were greeted by acting NASA administrator Steve Jurczyk, KSC director Bob Cabana, Europe ISS program manager Franke de Winne and Junichi Sakai, manager of Japan's ISS program.
"Welcome to Kennedy Space Center," Cabana said during a media event today marking the crew's arrival. "How great is it to have the Crew-2 crew here for the third launch of humans to space in less than a year?"
"What an exciting time for our nation's human spaceflight program," he added.
Crew-2 will be the second operational crewed mission for SpaceX and the first in which astronauts ride in a previously flown Crew Dragon spacecraft on top of a flight-proven rocket. This Falcon 9's first stage also launched the Crew-1 astronauts, who are currently living on the space station, in November 2020. And this Crew Dragon spacecraft, known as Endeavour, made its first trip to space in May 2020, when it toted NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the orbiting lab on the Demo-2 test mission.
Now, both of those vehicles will fly astronauts for a second time. (And, if all goes as planned, this Falcon 9 first stage will also launch SpaceX's Inspiration4 mission — with the first all-civilian crew — to Earth orbit later this year.)
"This is a mission of firsts," Jurczyk said during today's event.
In addition to the reusability milestones outlined above, "it's the first commercial mission flying two of our international partners to the station and returning them home, it's the first commercial crew handover on the ISS, and it's the first time two commercial crew spacecraft will be docked to the station," Jurczyk added. "So, just an incredibly exciting mission."
Reuse is a key priority of SpaceX. It was a challenge for the NASA and SpaceX teams to certify both the spacecraft and the launch vehicle for this mission, but they did so during a flight readiness review yesterday (April 15).
Currently, there are 10 astronauts living on the ISS, with three scheduled to go home before Crew-2 gets off the ground. NASA astronaut Kate Rubins and cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Serchkov launched on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft on Oct. 21. They're set to climb back on board their Soyuz spacecraft tonight and land on Earth early Saturday morning (April 17).
McArthur, Kimbrough, Hoshide and Pesquet will join Crew-1's Victor Glover, Mike Hopkins, Shannon Walker and Soichi Noguchi and the trio of Mark Vande Hei, Oleg Novitsky and Pyotr Dubrov, who came up on a Soyuz. (Glover, Hopkins, Walker and Vande Hei are NASA astronauts, Noguchi is Japanese and Novitsky and Dubrov are Russian.)
The Crew-1 quartet will leave the station at the end of the month, bringing the number of crewmembers back down to seven.
Crew-2 received the official green light from NASA on Thursday after passing the flight readiness review. There's one issue that SpaceX is currently investigating, however, and needs to clear before the Falcon 9 is test-fired on Saturday.
That issue has to do with the propellant loading of the Falcon 9. Preflight inspections showed that there is more liquid oxygen loading into the rocket than was expected. Other Falcon 9 first stages have flown with this discrepancy with zero issues, SpaceX representatives said, but NASA isn't taking any chances with crew on board. Both the agency and SpaceX are looking into the issue before launch.
Both the Crew Dragon capsule and the rocket rolled to the pad on Friday morning, as launch preparations continue at Pad 39A. In addition to the static-fire test scheduled for Saturday, there's a final launch readiness review that will take place on Tuesday (April 20).
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