November 08, 2020 – 11:14 AM
Cape Canaveral, Florida – Four astronauts headed to the Kennedy Space Center on Sunday to launch the second SpaceX crew, which will be coming next weekend.
For NASA, this marked the long-awaited start of regular crew rotations on the International Space Station, with private companies providing elevators. There will be twice as many astronauts on the test flight earlier this year, and their mission will last a full six months.
The crew of three Americans and one Japanese will launch the missile on Saturday night. It’s going to be a quick trip to the space station, which is a fast six-orbit flight that takes less than nine hours.
Astronauts called the Dragon capsule resilience due to all the challenges of 2020: coronavirus, social isolation, civil unrest, election season and particularly difficult campaigns. They’d been in quarantine for a week and took safety precautions – masks and social distancing – long before that.
The four will remain in orbit until spring, when their replacements arrive aboard another SpaceX Dragon capsule. The shipping version of the capsule will also continue regular deliveries of food and supplies.
SpaceX’s Benji Reed said the company expects to launch seven Dragons over the next 14 months: three for crew and four for cargo.
“Every time Dragon is launched, there will be dragons in space,” said Reed, Director of Crew Mission Department.
Meanwhile, another NASA taxi service, Boeing, is not expected to fly its first crew until next summer. The company plans a second unmanned test flight within two months; The first one suffered from so many software problems that the Starliner capsule failed to reach the space station.
NASA turned to private companies to deliver space station shipments – cargo, then crew – after the shuttle fleet was retired in 2011. American astronauts continued to board Russian missiles at increasingly exorbitant prices. The last Soyuz ticket cost NASA $ 90 million.
SpaceX finally ended NASA’s nearly decade-long drought for astronauts last May, and succeeded in delivering a pair of test pilots to the space station from Kennedy for two months. The returning capsule was scanned by SpaceX after landing, which led to some changes for this second flight.
Engineers have detected excessive heat shield wear from scorching return temperatures; Vice President Hans Koenigsman said the company had beefed up the at-risk division for the upcoming launch. Improvements were also made to the parachute altimeter system, after the chutes opened very low on the first astronaut flight. Recently, two Falcon rocket engines were replaced due to contamination from the red paint used for processing. Engine swaps resulted in a two-week flight delay.
Perhaps the biggest surprise from the SpaceX crew’s first flight was all the private boats full of Deportees that surrounded the capsule in the Gulf of Mexico after the August crash. Koenigsmann promises a bigger no-go zone and more patrols to return in the future.
Second crew has three veteran posts and a first timer:
Commander Mike Hopkins, 51, is an Air Force colonel and former space station resident who grew up on a pig and cattle ranch in Missouri.
– Cmdr Navy. Victor Glover, 44, is the only aerospace pilot and rookie. He is from the Los Angeles area and will be the first African American astronaut to move to the space station for a long time.
– Shannon Walker, 55, is a physicist born and raised in Houston, who previously also lived on the space station; Her husband, retired astronaut Andrew Thomas, helped build the outpost.
– Soishi Noguchi of Japan’s space agency, 55 and a former resident of the station, will become the first person in decades to launch three types of rockets. It has already traveled on the US space shuttle and the Russian Soyuz.
They will join two Russians and an American who arrived at the space station last month from Kazakhstan.
Hopkins and his crew will ride to the launch pad in Teslas – another company of SpaceX founder Elon Musk – in color-coordinated spacesuits with the spacecraft. But behind all the good looks are “a lot of amazing abilities,” according to Glover.
“It’s a very elegant capsule.” Walker said in a recent interview with The Associated Press, “It has the advantage of making great leaps in technology since the last time we built a spacecraft here in this country.”
Noguchi, who and Walker joined the crew this year only, is especially excited about riding the dragon. In Japan, the dragon is considered a respectable mythical creature – “Almost a journey to heaven.”
He said, “It is an honor to learn how to actually train a dragon, how to ride a dragon.” “SpaceX has done a very good job teaching from inception to Rider Dragon in six months.”
The Associated Press’s Department of Health and Science is supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science Education Division. AP is solely responsible for all content.
News from © Associated Press, 2020
News from © Associated Press, 2020