Despite a global pandemic, a record hurricane season and having to replace problematic rocket engines, NASA and SpaceX remain determined to take off the historic Crew-1 mission from Florida on Saturday. Follows the flight of four astronauts to the International Space Station in a Crew Dragon capsule atop a Falcon 9 rocket the success of the Demo-2 mission is its historic splashdown and will establish some key milestones of space flight.
Here are the answers to your most pressing mission questions.
Wait, what were the engines about?
The planned launch date for Crew-1 has been postponed from late October after NASA and SpaceX noticed unexpected behavior from some Falcon 9 engines that were to be used for an unrelated mission to launch a military GPS satellite. That mission was canceled with only two seconds left on the countdown and a investigations subsequently revealed a bit of lacquer had clogged a tiny line of the vent valve. The obstruction caused two of the rocket’s engines to try to fire early, potentially damaging the engines if takeoff was not automatically aborted.
SpaceX found that the rocket engines to be used for Crew-1 had the “same tendencies”. The launch date has been moved to November, the engines have been replaced, and now NASA and SpaceX are both happy it’s time to go.
OK, so why is Crew-1 a big deal?
Crew-1 is part of the culmination of NASA’s Commercial Crew program which has been years of work. For decades, NASA has typically developed its own rockets and spacecraft in-house with the help of contractors, but the Commercial Crew program works more like chartering a flight. Companies like SpaceX and Boeing have vehicles designed to be used by other customers, and NASA can ask them for a ride.
It is also a huge step forward in bringing spaceflight back to US soil. From the end of the Space Shuttle program in 2011 until the Demo-2 mission that sent two NASA astronauts to the ISS aboard a Crew Dragon earlier this year, NASA has relied on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft to bring its astronauts into orbit.
Demo-2 was considered a successful Crew Dragon demonstration, and NASA considers Crew-1 the first official crew rotation mission from the US shores since the Shuttle’s retirement.
“It’s exciting, especially with the crew-1 which was the first time we put four people on a space capsule ever, as human beings, like it’s pretty cool,” explained Anthony Vareha of NASA, the flight director. main for the mission. “It is also the longest mission ever for a manned US capsule.”
Who is flying in Crew Dragon?
Along with the historic flight will be NASA Dragon Crew Commander Michael Hopkins, Pilot Victor Glover, and Mission Specialist Shannon Walker, along with Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) Mission Specialist Soichi Noguchi at the space station.
Until now, three people in a Soyuz capsule amounted to a cramped journey, but Crew Dragon can accommodate up to seven (for comparison, the Space Shuttle has flown crews of up to eight), making the journey for these four space travelers relatively spacious.
How long is the trip?
Crew-1 members are embarking on a six-month science mission, which is exciting for those involved in the world of orbital and space science because four crew members making the journey equals more hands available on the station to do more experiments in microgravity.
“It will be exciting to see how much work we can do while we’re there,” Hopkins said Monday.
But first, of course, the astronauts will have to get there. The actual journey to the ISS takes about eight and a half hours from launch on Saturday night to docking with the station early Sunday morning.
How do I look?
Right here. NASA and SpaceX will stream the launch, currently set for 4:49 pm PT (7:49 PM ET) Saturday, Nov. 14 from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center.
NASA TV will broadcast the launch and docking on Sunday, and you can watch it all with the link below.