NASA and SpaceX are moving ahead with their next crewed mission to the International Space Station (ISS) on Oct 31, following a highly successful first crewed flight earlier this year on Demo-2 with Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley.
Known as ‘Crew-1’, the mission is set to lift-off at 2:40am EDT Oct 31, and will fly with astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, Shannon Walker, and Soichi Noguchi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) as the first operational crewed mission under a multi-billion dollar Commercial Crew contract with SpaceX, and marks the beginning of regularly scheduled trips on the Crew Dragon to and from the ISS.
The astronauts recently wrapped up their Crew Dragon training, while SpaceX has completed any necessary modifications to the spacecraft learned from Demo-2, such as reinforcing an area of heat shield which degraded a little more than they expected on Demo-2’s re-entry.
“We’ve got our license to fly! Thank you to all that made this possible,” noted Victor Glover on his Twitter after completing Crew Dragon training. “We hope to make you proud!”
One unsettling event from the Demo-2 mission occurred not with the flight itself, but with the general public upon splashdown of the capsule in the Gulf of Mexico. Several boats came dangerously close to the spacecraft and recovery crews working to retrieve the astronauts. In a press conference yesterday, SpaceX noted that the U.S. Coast Guard will enforce a 10-mile perimeter ‘keep out zone’ around the recovery area to ensure that does not happen again.
The crew has also named their spacecraft ‘Resilience’, following a long tradition of crews naming their vessels. The Demo-2 crew named their spacecraft ‘Endeavour’. And while the Crew Dragon can accommodate a crew of seven, NASA only requires four, as they want to use the remaining space onboard for cargo, supplies and science experiments going to and from the orbiting outpost.
Hopkins and Glover were named to Crew-1 amid great fanfare in August 2018, as part of the initial round of mission-specific Commercial Crew assignments. Always intended as a four-person crew, they were officially joined earlier this year Walker and Noguchi.
All but Glover have flown before, with Noguchi uniquely becoming the first non-American to log missions aboard three discrete spacecraft types. He previously served aboard Discovery for STS-114 in July 2005—the first post-Columbia shuttle mission—before riding Russia’s Soyuz to orbit in December 2009 to kick off a six-month ISS tour during Expeditions 22 and 23. For her part, Walker logged 5.5 months in space in June-November 2010 as part of Expeditions 24 and 25, whilst Hopkins spent nearly a half-year on the station during Expeditions 37 and 38 between September 2013 and March 2014. Between them, Crew-1 has over 500 days in space and over 33 hours of spacewalking.
Both their Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft are now at Kennedy Space Center undergoing final processing and integration, and expected to undergo a static test fire and wet dress rehearsal on pad 39A prior to launch day. Once in orbit, the crew and SpaceX mission control will monitor a series of automatic maneuvers that will guide them to the ISS, followed by rendezvous and docking. The spacecraft is designed to dock autonomously, but the astronauts can take control and pilot manually, if ever necessary.
They’ll be welcomed aboard the ISS by NASA astronaut Kate Rubins and Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov, expanding Expedition 64’s crew to seven.
It will be a busy time for them onboard too. More crew means more science can be conducted, in areas such as botany, cancer, and technology. And there will be a lot of traffic as well, as both a Northrop Grumman Cygnus and Boeing Starliner are slated to visit, along with a Russian Soyuz and a Cargo Dragon on a SpaceX resupply mission. A variety of spacewalks are planned as well.
Current projections are that Hopkins, Glover, Walker and Noguchi will spend six months aboard the ISS, with Crew-2 astronauts Shane Kimbrough, Megan McArthur, Aki Hoshide and Thomas Pesquet due to relieve them.