Months after the Edeavour splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico with two astronauts completing the Demo Mission to and from the International Space Station (ISS), SpaceX is all set to commence commercial crew rotation missions to low Earth orbit with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (Nasa).
The Crew-1 mission will launch on October 31.
Nasa’s SpaceX Crew-1 is the first crew rotation mission with four astronauts flying on a commercial spacecraft, including a non-American astronaut. Astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, Shannon Walker, and Soichi Noguchi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) will depart for the ISS in the fully tested and now operationalised Crew Dragon spacecraft aboard SpaceX’s mainstay Falcon 9.
The Dragon Endeavous docked with the ISS as part of Demo-2 mission. (Source: NASA)
Resilience to fly astronauts commercially
The first commercial crew named their spacecraft Resilience, highlighting the dedication of teams involved in the mission. The call sign was given as a demonstration of the spirit of teamwork and that "when we work together, there is no limit to what we can achieve," Nasa said in a statement. The launch is being planned for October 31 from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The crew is scheduled to have a long-duration stay aboard the orbiting laboratory, conducting science experiments and maintenance.
The four astronauts are set to return six months later in the Spring of 2021.
Rendezvous with ISS: From Mach-1 to 17,000 mph
Lifting off from Launch Pad 39A on a Falcon 9 rocket, Crew Dragon will accelerate its four passengers to approximately 17,000 mph and put it on an intercept course with the International Space Station. A series of automatic manoeuvres by the spacecraft will then put it on the correct trajectory with the revolving space lab. The rendezvous with the ISS will happen a day after the crew lifts off from Florida.
The International Space Station revolves 400 km above the Earth.
With the arrival of the four new astronauts, the ISS crew capacity will increase to seven for the first time since the US stopped shuttle missions in July 2011. The four astronauts will join Nasa’s Kate Rubins, and Russian Cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov of the Roscosmos. The Crew Dragon being used for this flight will remain docked to the station for the full length of the long-duration space station expedition, lasting approximately six months.
Research to widen as countries look towards Mars
A primary goal of the microgravity lab is to conduct scientific research to widen the understanding for future space explorations. With the US set to go back to the Moon with Artemis and countries aiming to build human colonies on Mars, ISS acts as the gateway outside the planet.
Astronaut Chris Cassidy performing Botany experiments onboard the ISS. (NASA)
The Crew-1 astronauts will spend their time aboard the ISS conducting new scientific research in areas of botany, cancer, and technology. According to Nasa, "Radishes will be grown in space," which will help optimise the growth of the plants in space as well as provide an assessment of their nutrition and taste. Scientists are leveraging microgravity to test drugs based on messenger ribonucleic acids (mRNA) for treating cancer. Meanwhile, engineers have designed a new toilet with a number of features that improve on current facility operations and help prepare for future missions, including those to the Moon and Mars.
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The astronauts will also monitor the movement of new spacecraft into low Earth orbit including the Northrop Grumman Cygnus, the next generation of SpaceX cargo Dragon spacecraft, and the Boeing CST-100 Starliner on its uncrewed flight test to the station. The crew has also been readied to conduct spacewalks.
NASA had announced the names of four astronauts who will be leaving for the ISS earlier this year. (NASA)
Test pilots to space veterans: Meet Crew-1
While astronauts Shannon Walker, and Soichi Noguchi joined the crew earlier this year, astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover were assigned to Crew-1 in 2018 and had been under training.
Michael Hopkins: The commander of the Crew Dragon and the Crew-1 mission, Hopkins is responsible for all phases of flight, from launch to re-entry. He will also serve as an Expedition 64 flight engineer aboard the station. The US Air Force test pilot was selected as a Nasa astronaut in 2009 and spent 166 days in space as a long-duration crew member. He completed two spacewalks totaling 12 hours and 58 minutes.
Victor Glover: He is the pilot of the Crew Dragon and second-in-command for the mission. Glover is responsible for spacecraft systems and performance. He was selected as an astronaut in 2013, and this will be his first spaceflight. As a naval aviator and a test pilot he has flown the F/A‐18 Hornet, Super Hornet, and EA‐18G Growler aircraft in US Navy.
Crew-1 astronauts ahead of a simulated launch at the Kennedy Space Centre. (NASA)
Shannon Walker: She is the mission specialist for Crew-1, who will work closely with the commander and pilot to monitor the vehicle during the dynamic launch and re-entry phases. Once aboard the station, Walker will become a flight engineer. Selected as a Nasa astronaut in 2004, Walker launched to the ISS aboard the Russian Soyuz TMA-19 spacecraft as its co-pilot and spent 161 days aboard the orbiting laboratory. More than 130 microgravity experiments were conducted during her stay in areas such as human research, biology, and materials science.
Soichi Noguchi: A Japanese astronaut and one of the most experienced among the crew, will also be a mission specialist. He was selected as an astronaut candidate by the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) in 1996 and flew with shuttle mission STS-114 in 2005 followed by a journey on Soyuz spacecraft in 2009 to return to the station as a long-duration crew member.
At the conclusion of the mission, Crew Dragon will autonomously undock with the four astronauts on board, depart the space station and re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere. After splashdown just off Florida’s coast, the crew will be picked up at sea by a SpaceX recovery vessel.