CAPA CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) – Four astronauts arrived at the Kennedy Space Center on Sunday for the second launch of the SpaceX crew, next weekend.
For NASA, marks the long-awaited start of regular crew rotations at the International Space Station, with private companies providing the lifts. The number of astronauts will be doubled as a test flight earlier this year and their mission will take six 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 go to the International Space Station,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, welcoming the astronauts to Kennedy.
The crew of three Americans and one Japanese is scheduled to fly on Saturday night, provided the approach of Tropical Storm Eta does not interfere. It will be a quick trip to the space station, a six-month six-month orbit lasting less than nine hours.
The astronauts named the capsule Dragon Resilience, taking into account all the challenges of 2020: coronavirus and social isolation, protests against racial injustice and particularly difficult election and campaign time. They have been quarantined for a week or two and are taking safety precautions – masks and social distances – long before that.
“It was a difficult year for everyone for many different reasons,” crew commander Mike Hopkins said after the flight from Houston. “We felt like the name of our vehicle gave a little hope, a little inspiration, a smile on people’s faces, then that’s definitely what we wanted to do.”
The four will remain in orbit until spring, when their replacements arrive at another SpaceX Dragon capsule. The capsule cargo version will also continue to make regular food deliveries and supplies.
SpaceX’s Benji Reed said the company expects 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 in space,” said Reed, director of crew mission management.
NASA’s other taxi rental service, meanwhile, Boeing, is not expected to fly its first crew until next summer. The company is planning a second test flight in two months. the former suffered so many software problems that the Starliner capsule failed to reach the space station.
NASA turned to private companies for space station deliveries – cargo and then crew – after the aircraft fleet left in 2011. U.S. astronauts continued to fly Russian rockets at increasingly steep prices. The last Soyuz ticket cost NASA $ 90 million.
SpaceX finally ended NASA’s launch drought for nearly a decade for astronauts last May, successfully delivering a pair of test pilots to the Kennedy Space Station for a two-month stay. The return capsule was tested by SpaceX after it was partitioned, resulting in some changes for this second flight.
Engineers have discovered excessive corrosion in the thermal shield from the intense re-entry temperatures. The company analyzed the vulnerable segment for the upcoming release, said SpaceX’s vice president Hans Koenigsmann. Improvements were also made to the altitude measurement system for parachutes, as the ducts opened more or less low on the astronaut’s first flight. More recently, the Falcon rocket replaced two engines due to contamination from a red lacquer used in processing. The engine exchange delayed the flight by two weeks.
Perhaps the biggest surprise since the SpaceX crew’s first flight was all the private boats full of hawks that surrounded the capsule in the Gulf of Mexico after the August collapse. Koenigsmann promises a larger conservation zone and more patrols for future returns.
The second crew has three veterans and a first timer:
Hopkins, 51, is an Air Force colonel and former space station resident who grew up on a farm and a cattle ranch in Missouri.
– Navy Cmdr. Victor Glover, 44, is the pilot and lone rookie in space. He is from the Los Angeles area and will be the first African-American astronaut to move to the space station for a long stay.
– Shannon Walker, 55, a physicist born and raised in Houston, also lived on the space station. Her husband, retired astronaut Andrew Thomas, helped build the outpost.
Soichi Noguchi, 55, of the Japanese Space Agency, another former resident of the station, will become the first person in decades to start with three types of rockets. has already flown a US space shuttle and the Russian Soyuz.
They will be joined by two Russians and an American who arrived at the space station last month from Kazakhstan.
Hopkins and his crew will lead the launch Teslas – Founder of SpaceX Elonas Mosk another company – in spaceships tuned to the spacecraft. But beneath all the beautiful looks are “many amazing possibilities,” according to Glover.
“It’s a very elegant capsule. “But it has the advantage of making big leaps in technology since the last time we built spaceships here in this country,” Walker told The Associated Press in a recent interview.
Noguchi, who joined Walker with the crew just this year, is very excited about riding a Dragon. In Japan, the dragon is a revered mythical creature – “almost a walk in paradise”.
“It is a great privilege to learn how to train the Dragon in reality, how to lead a Dragon,” he said. “SpaceX did a great job teaching from scratch to the dragon rider in six months.”