Early Friday morning, NASA will attempt to launch a CrewDragon to the International Space Station. The occasion will mark just the second time that astronauts will fly aboard the newly developed SpaceX capsule. You can watch the action live right here.
A Falcon 9 rocket fitted with the CrewDragon is scheduled to launch at 7:49 p.m. AEST on Friday, April 23 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre in Florida. NASA TV will cover the launch, which you can watch live right here. The webcast will begin at 3:30 p.m. AEST.
The launch was supposed to happen early Thursday, but poor weather conditions bumped the schedule back by a full day. U.S. Space Force 45th Weather Squadron is projecting a 90% chance of favourable weather conditions at launch. Should Friday’s launch be a scrub, the next opportunity will be Monday, April 26 at 6:38 p.m. AEST.
Shortly after launch, the Falcon 9’s first stage will attempt a vertical landing on the Of Course I Still Love You droneship, which will be waiting in the Atlantic Ocean.
Strapped inside the CrewDragon will be NASA astronaut and pilot Megan McArthur, NASA astronaut and commander Shane Kimbrough, Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, and European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Thomas Pesquet, the latter two being mission specialists.
It seems the weather is cooperating, so looks like we will try to launch tomorrow!!! Our friends on the @Space_Station are expecting us to show up and we don’t want to be late. They even installed my bedroom recently and literally made my bed ????. Such nice hosts! ???? #MissionAlpha pic.twitter.com/52X2bhPoTX— Thomas Pesquet (@Thom_astro) April 22, 2021
The capsule will dock at the space station on Saturday at 7:10 p.m. AEST, with the hatch opening two hours later. The team will join NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei and Russian cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy and Pyotr Dubrov.
The Expedition 65 crew has been tasked with a full slate of technical and scientific work.
The crew will test tissue chips, tiny models of human organs with multiple cell types. Innovation in this area could introduce entirely new ways of testing drugs and vaccines, as well as ways of testing cells in microgravity conditions. The experiment could also mimic the processes involved in age-related diseases.
For a study called CHIME, the crew will investigate potential causes of suppressed immunity in microgravity — a serious concern, should we wish to stay in space for long periods of time. As NASA explains, CHIME will “help identify potential causes of immune system dysfunction and lead to ways to prevent or counteract it, helping space travellers as well as those with compromised immune systems on Earth.”
Upgrades to the station’s solar power system will also take place during Expedition 65, namely installation of the ISS Roll-out Solar Array (iROSA). The first pair of six new arrays is scheduled for installation later this summer.
Expedition 65 will end in October, but the crew will be expected serve as gracious hosts in September when a Russian filmmaker and actress will briefly join the crew to film a movie. As a result, Vande Hei and Dubrov will likely have to spend an entire year in space, as they lost their return seats to the film crew.
Friday’s launch will be the second to feature a crewed SpaceX CrewDragon capsule; the first was on November 15, 2020. The same capsule used for the Crew-1 mission, informally named Resilience, will be used for the Crew-2 launch.
Launches of CrewDragon should start to become routine, as NASA moves away from its reliance on Russia’s Roscosmos to deliver American astronauts to the ISS using Soyuz rockets. A second commercial crew vehicle, called Starliner, is currently being developed by Boeing, but it won’t be ready any time soon; a second uncrewed test of the system was recently rescheduled for late this summer.