The four astronauts scheduled to launch to the International Space Station (ISS) on SpaceX's next crewed mission Saturday (Nov. 14) say they are ready to fly.
The spaceflyers — NASA astronauts Victor Glover, Mike Hopkins and Shannon Walker and Japan's Soichi Noguchi — arrived at NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida on Sunday (Nov. 8) and have already begun their final preparations before liftoff.
"We've been here less than 24 hours, and in that time, we have seen our rocket, we've seen our spacecraft Resilience and we've seen our spacesuits," Hopkins, the commander of the mission, which is known as Crew-1, said during a media briefing on Monday (Nov. 9). "And for an astronaut, that's a very good day."
Live updates: SpaceX's Crew-1 astronaut launch for NASA
In photos: SpaceX's Crew-1 mission to the International Space Station
Crew-1 will see a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch a Crew Dragon spacecraft on an 8.5-hour trip to the space station. Liftoff is set for 7:49 p.m. EST on Saturday (0049 GMT on Sunday, Nov. 15) from KSC's historic Pad 39A. If all goes according to plan, the Crew Dragon — which Hopkins and his fellow crewmates named Resilience — will dock with the ISS at around 4:04 a.m. EST (0904 GMT) on Sunday.
Crew-1 is the first operational, contracted mission to launch as part of NASA's Commercial Crew Program. Glover, Hopkins, Walker and Noguchi will stay on board the space station for a six-month mission.
"We're ready for this launch, we're ready for our six months of work that is waiting for us on board the International Space Station, and we're ready for the return," Hopkins said. "Thank you to all the people at NASA and SpaceX and around the world that have helped us get to this point."
Their ride to orbit will be on a shiny new Falcon 9 rocket, which rolled out to the pad overnight last night (Nov. 9-10) for a planned prelaunch static fire test today. That test is a part of normal launch procedures for SpaceX and ensures that the rocket is ready for flight.
Following a recent engine anomaly on a different Falcon 9, the company pushed back the Crew-1 launch from Oct. 31 to Nov. 14 to allow teams time to swap out two of the engines on the Falcon 9's first stage. That work has been completed and final preparations are underway at KSC this week to make sure that both the crew and the vehicle will be ready to fly.
"We have absolute faith and trust in the team [at SpaceX] and know that when we walk out to that launch pad on Saturday that everybody has assured us the vehicle is ready," Hopkins said when asked if he was nervous about the recent engine troubles.
Crew-1 will be the first four-person crew to fly in a Dragon, and the mission will help NASA and SpaceX fine-tune procedures to make sure that future flights run smoothly. Having four people spend more than eight hours in a small pod is bound to present some type of logistical challenge.
"We're going to be figuring out some of that as we go, because we'll be the first crew on it with the four of us, a full crew," said Hopkins.
"Even if we do have our shortened rendezvous and get there in eight and a half hours, I know as a crew, we're going to evaluate the choreography that it takes to do things in that capsule so we can inform future crews when they have four people and will probably have longer on it," Walker added.
In May of this year, Crew Dragon completed its first crewed flight, a test mission called Demo-2 that carried NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the ISS for a two-month stay. But Crew-1 is quite different: Behnken and Hurley's flight to the station lasted approximately 19 hours, more than twice as long as Crew-1's trip is scheduled to take. The Crew-1 flight should be short enough that the astronauts won't need to sleep on the way, but that could change if the launch gets delayed.
Right now, teams are monitoring Tropical Storm Eta, which is currently out in the Gulf of Mexico. The storm's track is uncertain at the moment, and there's a possibility that it could pass over Florida. If it does so and causes the Crew-1 launch to be pushed back, the astronauts' time on orbit could increase to as much as 27 hours. (The orbital dynamics that facilitate rendezvous with the station change depending on the launch date.)
Walker said that Crew Dragon is actually a bit roomier than Russia's three-person Soyuz spacecraft, which she has flown on, because the Soyuz is divided into two compartments.
"The Soyuz is probably only slightly smaller than the Dragon," she said. "I think [the Dragon] feels more spacious because there's only one segment as opposed to two on the Soyuz."
According to Walker, the difficult part of having four people in a confined space is figuring out the best placement for things, like food and clothes for when they want to get out of their spacesuits. "Where you're going to stage everything could be difficult for some people," she said.
Life in zero-g
Hopkins explained during the briefing that the space station might be a little cramped after Crew-1's arrival and that the astronauts will need to work out logistics. For instance, right now there is a shortage of sleeping pods on the space station. That's because historically ISS crew size has been six, and the arrival of Crew-1 will bring the orbiting lab's population to seven.
According to Hopkins, he will sleep in Resilience until another sleeping pod arrives at the space station. Currently, the plan is to send another sleeping pod to the orbiting lab. However, Hopkins said the timeline for its arrival is still unclear; it could arrive mid-mission or after the Crew-1 team returns to Earth.
In the meantime, Hopkins thinks the best place for him to sleep will be in the Dragon, but the team in mission control will continue to evaluate that. He explained that there's a tradition that goes back to the space shuttle days in which the commander sleeps in the cockpit. Since Hopkins commands Crew-1, he volunteered to be the odd man out and sleep on board Resilience.
The Ops Planners, the people in mission control who plan daily crew schedules, will need to do a lot of coordination to help the five astronauts on the U.S. side of the space station coordinate everything from exercise breaks to meals to sleeping arrangements and work schedules after Crew-1's arrival, Hopkins said.
"I think for [the Ops Planners] it's going to get much more challenging, because we're not just talking about exercise equipment here," Hopkins said. "Investigators want to see what we're doing, and now, all of a sudden, you could have five different people working on five different experiments."
"We have to have the resources to support that," he added, noting that such resources include communications and video loops.
One of the main envisioned benefits of the Commercial Crew Program is that private astronaut taxis will increase the number of crewmembers visiting the space station, which in turn will lead to more research conducted than ever before on the orbiting lab, NASA officials have said.
"We've seen what our first week on station is supposed to look like," said Hopkins, "and I think they're going to keep us pretty busy up there."
Hopkins and the crew explained that they were going to continue some of the typical spaceflight traditions and would be implementing some of their own as well. Some of these will remain a mystery until the flight, including the crew's choice of a zero-g indicator.
On SpaceX's uncrewed Demo-1 flight to the space station, which launched in March 2019, SpaceX put a plush Earth toy in the Dragon cockpit so that mission controllers could tell when the craft reached space. (The plush Earth started floating about the cabin when this happened.) On Demo-2, Hurley and Behnken let their young sons pick the indicator.
The boys chose a pink and blue sequined dinosaur. When asked what Crew-1's choice was, Hopkins told Space.com that the astronauts plan to reveal it during the climb to orbit. "We're going to continue with that tradition," Hopkins said, "but we're going to save the reveal until the [rocket's] second stage is cut off."
"At that point it should be pretty obvious," he added.
Up next for the crew is a dress rehearsal, which is scheduled for Wednesday (Nov. 11). The crew will run through launch-day procedures, practicing walking out of crew quarters, driving to the launch pad and strapping into the vehicle.
The teams at NASA and SpaceX completed a final launch readiness review today, which cleared the vehicle for flight. If the static fire test goes as planned, the only concern could be the weather.
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