CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Dragon's next riders are excited to strap into the capsule and blast into space.
Four astronauts are scheduled to launch to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule Endurance at 2:21 a.m. EDT (0621 GMT) on Sunday (Oct. 31). The liftoff will kick off Crew-3, SpaceX's third operational mission to the orbiting lab for NASA.
The spaceflyers — NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn and Kayla Barron, along with Germany's Matthias Maurer — arrived at NASA's Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida on Tuesday (Oct. 26) and have already begun their final preparations before liftoff, which included a quick chat with reporters that was broadcast from the astronaut crew quarters.
Live updates: SpaceX's Crew-3 space station mission for NASA
"We are so excited to be here and to be sitting just a few miles away from the rocket that we will be riding on," Chari, the Crew-3 mission commander, told reporters on Wednesday (Oct. 27).
"Last night we got to see Endurance in the hangar and actually put our hands on our Dragon, so that was a very special experience," Chari added. "We are looking forward to the next few days [before launch], and then getting to do some incredible science on orbit."
Crew-3 will see a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch the brand-new Endurance spacecraft from KSC's historic Pad 39A on a 22-hour trip to the space station. If all goes according to plan, Endurance will dock with the ISS at around 12:10 a.m. EDT (0410 GMT) on Monday (Nov. 1).
Ride to space
Crew-3's launch will mark the second time that astronauts fly to space atop a used Falcon 9 rocket. The mission's booster, which rolled out to the pad very early Wednesday morning, first flew in June, when it sent a robotic cargo Dragon toward the orbiting lab.
And now that Falcon 9 first stage will loft Chari, Marshburn, Maurer and Barron, who will stay onboard the space station for six months. They'll join seven other astronauts who are currently living and working in space: Crew-2 astronauts Megan McArthur and Shane Kimbrough of NASA, Thomas Pesquet of the European Space Agency (ESA), and Akihiko Hoshide of JAXA, along with NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei and Russian cosmonauts Oleg Novitsky and Pyotr Dubrov.
Chari said that the crew is planning on running through a full dress rehearsal on Thursday (Oct. 28) prior to strapping in for launch on Sunday morning. That dry run will include everything from mission and weather briefings to suiting up to climbing into their capsule and closing the hatch. The crew will get as close as they can to launch day procedures without actually launching, Chari said.
"And then at the end of that, we'll do a simulated scrub to go through essentially all the stuff that'll be associated with that and make sure we do it safely," he said.
This will also be the first time the crew straps into the actual capsule that will take them to space. Earlier this month, the crew ran through a series of suit tests and vehicle checkouts, but on Thursday they will run through the whole process, end to end.
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Marshburn, who is the only veteran spaceflyer on the Crew-3 mission, said that one of the things he is most looking forward to is flying with the newbies.
"For me, personally, I'm especially looking forward to flying with people that have not flown before, and who I've never flown with before," he told Space.com. "And looking back on previous missions, it's your human interactions with your crewmates that become the most special."
He said that one of the pinnacle moments of an astronaut's time in space is having the opportunity to do a spacewalk, which Barron said is probably the hardest part of astronaut training. "Training for a spacewalk is really physical, because working in the suit is hard," Barron said. "During that time, you have to maintain incredible mental focus, because you're doing these really detailed tasks. "
"And you're out there [sometimes for as long as seven hours] with just water. You don't have anything to eat, so you rely on calories stored to keep you going," she said. "And so I think my experience doing endurance sports helps me learn how to manage my output, how to surge when I need to, how to recover, and mostly how to stay focused and rely on the people around me to help push me through those really challenging moments."
Despite the challenging nature of it, Barron — who ran track and cross country at the U.S. Naval Academy — said she is really hoping to have the chance to put that training to work and do a spacewalk.
But the team is most looking forward to the day-to-day activities: conducting research and science investigations. "It's really special to be at the cutting edge of an event when we, with our eyes, see something that humans have never seen before," Marshburn told Space.com.
"And of course, it's all on video so we can share what we're discovering together with the folks on the ground," he said. "That's going to be our life — most of our life — as we're up there working in this incredible laboratory."
"I'm really excited about all the things we're doing to inform future exploration missions to the moon and, hopefully, eventually to Mars," Barron said when asked about which scientific investigations she is most excited for. (Barron and Chari are two of NASA's cadre of Artemis astronauts who could one day walk on the moon.)
"For us, the opportunity to visit the space station — this incredible engineering marvel that we've been serving on continuously for two decades now — is the best possible training for us in terms of personal development," Barron said.
She's also looking forward to "the opportunity to learn from the experienced people who we get to go to space with — people like Tom and Mark Vande Hei, who we will meet on the station, but also from the operational team on the ground and Mission Control."
Maurer, who is also a rookie spaceflyer and the second European astronaut to fly on a Crew Dragon, is looking forward to continuing Europe's presence in space. He applied to be an astronaut 13 years ago, and Sunday will mark his first spaceflight. "I'm thankful for the support I received all those years ago to follow my dream," Maurer said. "And now, actually flying to space is a huge reward."
"It's paying off all the hard work during these 13 years," he added, and shows that "you need to have some stamina and just never stop dreaming."
One of the experiments Maurer will be working with is a piece of artificial intelligence called CIMON-2 ("Crew Interactive Mobile Companion-2"). "It's an experiment that is really paving the way for exploration," Maurer said.
According to Maurer, CIMON tech could help bridge the communication gaps on long-duration missions. "If it takes 20 minutes to ask a question, and 20 minutes to receive a response from Earth, that's really no way to work," he said. "So you need to have an expert with you."
And Maurer says that expert is CIMON-2, which can be programmed with a variety of knowledge bases from geology to medicine and everything in between. "In the future, my CIMON colleague could walk me through a procedure, give me some recommendations," he said. "But for now, if my crew makes me feel sad, CIMON could tell me a joke."