NASA and SpaceX are pushing the next Commercial Crew flight, Crew-5, back to October 3 at 12:45 pm EDT. It had originally been scheduled for September 29. The delay will allow for better timing with other spacecraft going to and from the International Space Station.
The Crew Dragon “Endurance” will carry Mission Commander Nicole Mann, Pilot Josh Cassada, and two Mission Specialists, JAXA’s Koichi Wakata and Roscosmos cosmonaut Anna Kikina. Kikina is the first of two Russian cosmonauts who will fly on the SpaceX Crew Dragon as part of a deal between NASA and Roscosmos.
After a brief handover period on the International Space Station, the Crew Dragon “Freedom” will bring Crew-4 back to Earth.
Crew-5 had previously been delayed due to damage to the rocket that occurred when it hit a bridge while SpaceX was transporting it from a test site in Texas to the launch site in Cape Canaveral. The damage has now been repaired to NASA’s and SpaceX’s satisfaction.
According to NASA’s blog, Crew-5 also wrapped up training. Like all space station crews, they will have a period of quarantine before launch to avoid infectious illness. During the Apollo Program of the 1960s, NASA had learned that even having a cold in space can cause aggravation.
Fully privately owned, flight-rated crewed spacecraft are a relatively new concept. SpaceX became the first company to have one rated for trips into orbit and the International Space Station. Companies working on their own versions include Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, and Boeing.
Boeing recently completed an uncrewed test of its Starliner, sending it to the International Space Station and back to Earth. However, it delayed its first crewed flight to as early as 2023. It also has a Commercial Crew contract with NASA, though the space agency had to reassign astronauts and add flights to the SpaceX contract due to delays in the Starliner. Once the Starliner is fully operational, it will “take turns” with the Crew Dragon to ferry crews to the International Space Station.
The Crew Dragon can also send private crews into orbit and to the International Space Station. It already flew the Inspiration4 mission and the Axiom-1 mission. NASA requires that private missions to the International Space Station be commanded by retired astronauts like Michael Lopez-Alegria and Peggy Whitson, both of which are working with Axiom Space and have previous experience on International Space Station crews.
The regular space station crews normally serve 5- to 6-month rotations called “Expeditions.” Crew-5 will join Expedition 68 and carry over to Expedition 69 with the next handover. While on board, Expedition 68/69 will conduct valuable engineering, material science, and life science experiments that are likely to have valuable applications on Earth.