NASA and SpaceX have rescheduled the launch of Crew-1 for November 14. If successful, the first operational launch of the Crew Dragon will deliver four astronauts to the International Space Station.
The Demo-2 mission successfully launched Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley to the International Space Station in May and returned them to Earth in early August. The Crew Dragon is designed to splash down in the ocean in a manner reminiscent of NASA’s early crewed space missions of the 1960s and 1970s.
NASA was satisfied with the performance of the final official test of the Crew Dragon despite evidence of greater than expected damage to the heat shield that has since been resolved. The launch of Crew-1 was pushed back from October 31 due to a possible issue with an engine gas generator in the first stage booster that was detected in an uncrewed launch earlier this month.
Faster Rendezvous, Happier Crew
The current launch window will allow everything to line up just right for the crew to rendezvous with the International Space Station in 19 hours. By way of comparison, the recent launch of Soyuz MS-17 was considered record-breaking with an “ultrafast” rendezvous time of three hours. The Russians were testing a faster rendezvous method that could take over from the old standard method that had the crew in the cramped Soyuz cabin for as long as two days.
Nineteen hours in the relatively spacious Crew Dragon seems like a happy medium between the two rendezvous models used by the Soyuz. To NASA and SpaceX, actual crewed flights of the Crew Dragon are still new even though NASA has been mastering rendezvous since the days of the Gemini missions. So they may simply be thinking: “What’s the hurry?”
Continuous Occupation of International Space Station
The Crew-1 crew will include NASA astronauts Shannon Walker, Victor Glover and Michael Hopkins and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency astronaut Soichi Noguchi. They are scheduled to stay on the International Space Station for a standard six-month rotation. They will join Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov and NASA astronaut Kate Rubins as part of Expedition 64.
NASA is currently gearing up for celebration of 20 years of continuous operations on the International Space Station. Although there has been occasional concern that the station would have to be temporarily or permanently abandoned due to the risk of anything from budget cuts to technical problems, it has actually been occupied by rotating crews since the year 2000.
The station has been a source of valuable scientific data for a wide variety of studies, especially in the fields of biology and medicine. Most famously, the “astro-twins” Scott and Mark Kelly, both astronauts, volunteered for a series of experiments in which Scott Kelly spent nearly a year on the International Space Station and Mark Kelly remained on the ground as a control.
Crew-1 continues NASA’s efforts to launch astronauts from U.S. soil to the International Space Station rather than rely on the Russian Soyuz at a time in which relationships with Russia may have been strained by accusations of interference with American elections. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has even been heard to snipe, “Here’s your trampoline,” in response to Russian president Vladimir Putin’s comment that Americans could perhaps launch astronauts into space using a trampoline after the Space Shuttle was retired.
NASA will stream the audio of a media teleconference covering this event on its live streaming feed, NASA TV, at 4 p.m. on EDT Wednesday, Oct. 28. NASA personnel attending the event will be Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate associate administrator Kathy Lueders, Johnson Space Center Commercial Crew Program manager Steve Stich, and SpaceX Build and Flight Reliability vice president Hans Koenigsmann. If interested in watching this event, it will be on the below embedded video.