Featured Image: The uncrewed SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft is silhouetted against the Earth's horizon during Demo-1, the first flight of NASA's Commercial Crew Program to the International Space Station. Source: NASA
SpaceX ignited a new era in American human spaceflight in 2020. NASA had not launched astronauts to space on American-made spacecraft since the Space Shuttle fleet was retired in 2011. After nearly a decade, the United States reemerged as a space power with human spaceflight capabilities thanks to SpaceX’s innovation and spacecraft reliability. SpaceX is on track to launch its fourth crewed flight and third operational mission (Crew-3) to the International Space Station (ISS) under NASA's Commercial Crew Program.
This week, the agency announced SpaceX’s next crewed flight could liftoff from the Kennedy Space Center on Halloween. The agency targets to launch Crew-3 no earlier than Sunday, October 31 [time pending]. The astronauts' trick-or-treat costume could be their cool SpaceX spacesuit as they launch to space on the spookiest day of the year. Crew-3 NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn and Kayla Barron, and ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Matthias Maurer, will launch to the Space Station aboard a brand new Crew Dragon spacecraft atop a Falcon 9 rocket to initiate their 6-month-long mission.
Three rookie astronauts are part of the Crew-3 mission. It will be the first spaceflight for Chari, who is a colonel in the U.S. Air Force and has extensive experience as a test pilot. It will also be Maurer's first trip to ISS, he is from Germany and has done astronaut training and research at ESA. Barron will also embark on her first voyage to space. She was a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Navy before joining the astronaut corps in 2017. They will ride alongside veteran astronaut Marshburn who has traveled to space three times. He previously served as a crew member of STS-127 in 2009 and Expedition 34/35 in 2013. Marshburn has experience as a medical doctor; he served as flight surgeon at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, then became medical operations lead for ISS operations.
Upon arrival, Crew-3 will be welcomed by Crew-2 astronauts who are currently working at the orbiting laboratory. Crew-2 and Crew 3 missions will overlap for a week or two. NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) astronaut Aki Hoshide, and ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet will return to Earth early-to-mid November, according to a press release. They will ride the previously-flown Crew Dragon Endeavour spacecraft to cross Earth’s atmosphere and splashdown along the coast of Florida.
NASA Commercial Crew Program involves rotational crewed missions to ISS launched by SpaceX and Boeing. However, the Boeing Starliner spacecraft has not completed its human spaceflight certification. SpaceX has been launching all crewed missions since the program initiated. The agency announced this week that “the next crew rotation mission is targeted for no earlier than mid-April 2022 with the partner spacecraft and launch vehicle to be determined at a later date.” Boeing plans to test its Starliner capsule in July this year to certify that the system can safely carry astronauts to and from the Space Station. If testing goes well, a pair of NASA astronauts will conduct a demonstration mission aboard Starliner before launching an entire crew on an operational mission to ISS. NASA will determine who will launch the next crew depending on Boeing's progress.
All Images Source: NASA