NASA’s SpaceX Crew-2 mission is set to launch for the International Space Station (ISS) on Thursday morning.
In a prelaunch press conference on Tuesday, representatives from the agency, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and the European Space Agency (ESA) confirmed that they were set for a 6:11 a.m. ET liftoff from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
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SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket will launch the Crew Dragon Endeavour, marking the second crew rotation on a commercial spacecraft mission and the first with two international partner astronauts.
NASA’s Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide and French astronaut Thomas Pesquet will embark on a six-month trip aboard the ISS.
Once there, International Space Station manager Joel Montalbano said they will conduct more than 260 scientific experiments and that the fourth crew member will help to increase the research and development for both the highly anticipated Artemis program and the low Earth orbit commercialization efforts.
“With the crew-2 launch, we welcome the European Space Agency’s flying an astronaut for the first time on Dragon. We also welcome back the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency flying on Dragon for a second time,” he added. “So, truly an international program and this is our future where we’ll have international partners on our vehicles for the future. That’s a goal and that’s where we’re planning to be.”
Speaking before Montalbano, Commercial Crew Program manager Steve Stitch said that the NASA-SpaceX team had its first “Readiness Review” and dress rehearsal on Tuesday morning, leading to the conclusion that it was “on track” for Thursday and that — assuming there are no changes — docking would be scheduled for Friday at around 4:30 a.m. ET.
“The main thing we’re watching over the next few days is the weather. You know we have to have the launch weather be ‘go’ and also ‘abort’ weather all along the abort ground track to protect the crew in the vehicle. So, we’re looking at both Thursday and Friday and looking at the weather over the next few days,” he said.
Launch Weather Officer Brian Cizek, from U.S. Space Force’s 45th Weather Squadron, explained that there is currently an 80% chance of favorable weather on Thursday and a 90% chance of favorable weather on Friday.
According to Cizek, downrange weather and winds remain the biggest concern.
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Benji Reed, SpaceX’s senior director of human spaceflight programs, thanked NASA for awarding its $2.89 billion commercial human lander to SpaceX and said that the Elon Musk-owned company is excited to be able to fly crew again.
He said that the teams will continue to perform analyses and data assessments, called “paranoia reviews,” until it’s time to fly.
“And, in fact, our teams are actually doing even additional practices, like I mentioned, we continue to want to ensure that everything is great. And so we’re continuing down that path as we get ready for Thursday,” Reed said.
Johnson Space Center Flight Operations Directorate Deputy Manager Norm Knight called the business of human spaceflight “unforgiving” and praised the teams for their work.
“It’s the vigilance from the teams that guarantee that continued safety and it was definitely present in these reviews this week. And you know you step back and you look, it’s, it’s, it’s hard enough in a regular environment but you put COVID on top of that; it’s been exceptionally impressive what these teams have been able to pull together,” he said.
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“The cadence is very good for the teams, between SpaceX and NASA people are working well with each other. We’re looking forward to a successful mission. And again, it’s just a very exciting time,” he said.
Also in attendance were JAXA ISS Manager Junichi Sakai, ESA ISS Program Manager Frank de Winne and Johnson Space Center ISS Program Chief Scientist Kirt Costello.