Astronauts prepare for launch to International Space Station

After an in a single day launch readiness evaluation, NASA and SpaceX early Tuesday cleared a Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft for blastoff Thursday on a business flight to ferry a three-man, one-woman crew to the International Space Station.

Liftoff from historic pad 39A on the Kennedy Space Center will mark solely the third piloted flight to orbit from U.S. soil for the reason that area shuttle’s retirement 10 years in the past, and the primary that includes a beforehand flown Crew Dragon capsule and a “used” first stage booster.

A sequence of in-depth opinions, culminating in Tuesday’s Launch Readiness Review, “have been extremely thorough, especially with a refurbished Falcon and Dragon. We’re very convinced that it’s safe to fly,” stated Norm Knight, deputy supervisor of flight operations on the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft stand poised for launch Thursday to ferry two NASA astronauts, a Frenchman and a Japanese flier to the International Space Station. / Credit: NASA

“Safety has been number one in all these reviews, and that’s the way it should be. This business of human spaceflight is unforgiving,” he instructed reporters in a digital information convention. “It’s the vigilance from the teams that guarantee that continued safety, and it was definitely present in these reviews this week.”

The mission’s all-veteran crew — commander Shane Kimbrough, Megan McArthur, European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet and Japanese flier Akihiko Hoshide — strapped in for a costume rehearsal countdown Sunday. If all goes properly, they’re going to blast off for actual at 6:11 a.m. ET on Thursday.

“The crew is getting an opportunity today to get more briefings, get prepped for launch, spend some time with their family,” Knight stated. “They get a little bit of downtime tomorrow, waking up very early on Thursday morning for the launch.”

Forecasters predict an 80% probability of excellent climate on the launch web site. But brisk winds and presumably tough seas are a priority alongside the ship’s northeasterly path over the Atlantic Ocean the place the crew could possibly be pressured to try an emergency splashdown in an abort.

The Crew-2 astronauts (left to right): European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet, Megan McArthur, commander Shane Kimbrough and Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide. / Credit: NASA/SpaceX

The Crew-2 astronauts (left to proper): European Space Agency astronaut Thomas Pesquet, Megan McArthur, commander Shane Kimbrough and Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide. / Credit: NASA/SpaceX

“It’s not just about launch (weather) when we’re launching crew,” stated Benji Reed, director of human spaceflight for SpaceX. “We have to worry about the entire ascent trajectory, because if something goes wrong, we want Dragon to be able to escape off of the rocket. And that means they have to be able to come down in the ocean at all points along that potential escape.

“We’re taking a look at winds and wave peak and lightning, every kind of issues to ensure it is proper. … While we’re aiming for Thursday at 6:11 Eastern, we’ll watch the climate. If we’d like to, we’ll transfer to that subsequent day on Friday.”

A launch on Friday would be targeted for 5:49 a.m. The next opportunities after that, based on space station rendezvous requirements, are Monday and Tuesday.

The Crew Dragon capsule launching this week first flew in May 2020 when it carried two astronauts, Douglas Hurley and Robert Behnken — McArthur’s husband — to the area station in SpaceX’s first piloted flight to orbit.

For the capsule’s second flight this week, McArthur will strap into the same seat her husband used last year. The first stage of the crew’s Falcon 9 flew last November to help launch the four SpaceX Crew-1 astronauts Kimbrough and company — Crew-2 — are replacing aboard the space station.

The Crew-2 astronauts pose at the base of their Falcon 9 rocket during a dress rehearsal countdown on April 18. / Credit: NASA

The Crew-2 astronauts pose at the base of their Falcon 9 rocket during a dress rehearsal countdown on April 18. / Credit: NASA

“Flying on reused automobiles, on flight-proven automobiles is vital in the direction of better flight reliability and decreasing the price of entry to area, which is in the end what helps us make life multiplanetary,” Reed said. “So it is a nice accomplishment.”

Assuming an on-time launch Thursday, the Crew Dragon will execute an automated, hands-off rendezvous with the International Space Station, approaching from behind and below before moving in for docking at the Harmony module’s forward port at 5:30 a.m.

Their arrival will boost the station crew to 11, just two shy of a record set during two shuttle visits.

The four Crew-2 astronauts will join Oleg Novitskiy, Pyotr Dubrov and NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei, launched to the lab April 9 aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft, and the four Crew-1 astronauts launch last November: Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, Shannon Walker and Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi.

After a six-day handover to familiarize their replacements with station operations, Hopkins and his crewmates will strap into their own Crew Dragon, undock from the Harmony module’s space-facing port and head for re-entry and splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico south of Tallahassee, Florida, around 12:40 p.m. on April 28.

“It’s essential at all times to be excited about the crew that we’ll be bringing house,” Reed said. “All of our restoration crews are prepared. They even have been coaching and reviewing and working towards and checking all of their {hardware}, they usually’re prepared (the crew) to come house.”

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