'It's white-knuckle time:' NASA chief stresses safety for Crew-8 astronaut launch

people in suits sit at a desk in front of a poster of four astronauts in flight suits and the text "crew-8"
(Image credit: Future/Brett Tingley)

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida — NASA leadership stressed safety above all else as the agency's Crew-8 mission to the International Space Station (ISS) prepares for launch.

Crew-8 will send three NASA astronauts and one Roscosmos cosmonaut to the ISS atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Liftoff is currently scheduled for Friday (March 1) at 12:04 a.m. EST (0504 GMT). You can watch it live here at Space.com when the time comes. 

In a press briefing at Kennedy Space Center here today (Feb. 28), NASA Administrator Bill Nelson underscored that the agency's first priority remains safety, no matter how routine commercial launches with SpaceX may appear to the public.

"Every time we launch, it's white-knuckle time — and especially when humans are on top," Nelson told reporters during the briefing. "We never want to get in to the frame of mind that it's so routine that it's like getting in your car and taking a Sunday afternoon drive."

Related: SpaceX Crew-8 astronauts eager for launch to ISS on March 1: 'Things surprise you, but we're ready'
Read more: SpaceX Crew-8 astronaut mission: Live updates

Nelson said that the routine "frame of mind" contributed to the space shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986, in which seven astronauts lost their lives.

Crew-8 will mark the fifth flight of the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule Endeavour, making it the current "fleet leader," according to Steve Stich, manager of NASA's Commercial Crew Program. 

During today's briefing, Stich elaborated on current discussions the program is having centered around possibly extending the number of flights for which Crew Dragon is rated from five to 15, stating that SpaceX will examine Endeavour component by component after its Crew-8 flight to help teams make that determination.

As part of the focus on safety for Crew-8, mission managers are watching a few different weather systems off the Florida coast that could force a launch delay from the current schedule. 

Stich described the current weather outlook as "marginal," and added that mission teams will continue to evaluate the weather forecast up until launch time.

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Brett Tingley
Managing Editor, Space.com

Brett is curious about emerging aerospace technologies, alternative launch concepts, military space developments and uncrewed aircraft systems. Brett's work has appeared on Scientific American, The War Zone, Popular Science, the History Channel, Science Discovery and more. Brett has English degrees from Clemson University and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. In his free time, Brett enjoys skywatching throughout the dark skies of the Appalachian mountains.