CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) – Four astronauts arrived at the Kennedy Space Center on Sunday to launch SpaceX’s second crew, coming next weekend.
For NASA, it marks the long-awaited start of regular crew rotation at the International Space Station, with private companies supplying elevators. There will be twice as many astronauts as the test flight earlier this year and their missions will last for 6 months.
“Make no mistake: Every flight is a test flight when it comes to space travel. But it is also true that we need to be able to get to the International Space Station often, ”said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine as he welcomed astronauts to Kennedy.
The crew of three Americans and one Japanese are scheduled to launch the missile on Saturday night, provided Tropical Storm Eta is approaching without hindrance. It would be a speedy ride to the space station, a six-orbit fast train that lasted under nine hours.
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The astronauts have named their Dragon capsule Resilience to all challenges of 2020: coronaviruses and social isolation, protests against racial injustice as well. an election season and a particularly tough campaign. They had been quarantined for a week or two and taken safety precautions – masks and out of society – long before that.
“It has been a tough year for everyone for a variety of reasons,” said crew commander Mike Hopkins after flying from Houston. “We feel like if our vehicle name can give a little hope, a little inspiration, bring smiles on people’s faces, then that’s definitely what we want to do. “
The four will be in orbit until spring, when their replacements arrive on another SpaceX Dragon capsule. The capsule version of the capsule will also continue to ship regular food and supplies.
SpaceX’s Benji Reed said the company plans to launch seven Dragons over the next 14 months: three for the crew and four for cargo.
“Every time there is a Dragon launch, there will be two Dragons flying in space,” said Reed, the crew’s director of mission management.
Meanwhile, NASA’s other charter taxi service, Boeing, is expected to fly its first crew until next summer. The company plans to conduct a second unmanned test flight in a few months; the first had so many software problems that the Starliner couldn’t reach the space station.
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NASA turned to private companies to transport the space station – cargo, then crew – after the shuttle fleet retired in 2011. American astronauts continue to ride on rockets of Russia at increasingly high prices. The final Soyuz ticket cost NASA $ 90 million.
SpaceX finally ended NASA’s nearly-decade-long drought on astronauts last May, successfully bringing a pair of test pilots to the space station from Kennedy in a two-month period. . The returning capsule was scrutinized by SpaceX after it fell, resulting in a few changes to this second flight.
Engineers discovered excessive erosion in the heat shield due to the extreme weather temperatures; Hans Koenigsmann, vice president of SpaceX, said the company has prepared the vulnerable part for the upcoming launch. Improvements have also been made to the altimeter system for parachutes, after the chutes opened a little too low during the astronaut’s first flight. More recently, Falcon rockets have been replaced by two engines because of contamination from the red lacquer used in the processing. The engine swap delayed the flight by two weeks.
Perhaps the biggest surprise from the SpaceX crew’s maiden flight was that all the private boats filled with stares had surrounded the capsule in the Gulf of Mexico following the August crash. there will be a larger shelter and more patrols for future return trips.
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The second crew has three veteran pilots and a first timer:
Hopkins, 51, is an Air Force colonel and former space station resident who grew up on a swine and cattle ranch in Missouri.
– Navy Cmdr. Victor Glover, 44, is the pilot and only space rookie; He is from the Los Angeles area and will be the first African-American astronaut to enter the space station in a long time.
– Shannon Walker, 55, a physicist born and raised in Houston, also used to live on the space station; Her husband, retired astronaut Andrew Thomas, helped build the outpost.
– Soichi Noguchi of the Japan Space Agency, 55, another former resident of the station, will become the first person in decades to launch three types of rockets; he flew on the American space shuttle and the Russian Soyuz.
They will join two Russians and an American to the space station last month from Kazakhstan.
Hopkins and his crew will travel to the launch pad in Teslas – another SpaceX founder Elon Musk’s company – in a space suit that is color-matched with a spaceship. But underneath all the beautiful looks are “lots of great possibilities,” according to Glover.
“It’s a very beautiful capsule. But it has the advantage of having leaps and bounds in technology since we last built a spacecraft here in this country, ”Walker said in a recent interview with the Associated Press.
Noguchi, who joined Walker with the new crew this year, is especially excited about riding a Dragon. In Japan, dragons are a mythical creature in high esteem – “almost like a trip to heaven.”
“It’s a privilege to learn how to train a real Dragon, how to ride a Dragon,” he said. “SpaceX has done a great job teaching dragon riders from scratch for six months.”