SpaceX is launching another crew into space this weekend, sending four astronauts to the International Space Station for a six-month stay in orbit. Traveling inside SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft, the crew will begin their mission early, with a scheduled take-off at 2:21 a.m. ET on October 31 from Cape Canaveral, Fla.
The mission is called Crew-3 and will carry NASA astronauts Thomas Marshburn, Raja Chari and Kayla Barron, as well as European Space Agency astronaut Matthias Maurer. This will be the first space trip for Maurer, Barron and Chari, the mission commander. For Marshburn, this will be his third space flight, and for each of his missions, he flew on a different vehicle. Its first flight was on the space shuttle and its second flight was on the Russian Soyuz spacecraft. He will now discover the Crew Dragon, which the astronauts have nicknamed “Endurance”.
Crew-3 is SpaceX’s third operational crewed flight for NASA under the Space Agency’s Commercial Crew Program – an initiative to use private vehicles to transport NASA astronauts to and from the Station international space. As part of its initial contract with NASA, SpaceX is expected to perform up to six crewed flights for the agency, with two flights tentatively scheduled for next year. However, NASA recently indicated that it is already considering how to transport astronauts beyond these initial missions.
Although this is SpaceX’s third operational mission, it’s actually the fifth time the company has launched people into orbit on the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft. In order to prove Crew Dragon’s safety for NASA, SpaceX launched two NASA astronauts to the ISS in May 2020. This first successful test flight paved the way for SpaceX to begin performing routine flights with Crew Dragon.
And in September, SpaceX launched a crewed flight called Inspiration4 that carried four non-NASA astronauts into orbit. Presented as an all-civilian crew, the passengers included a tech billionaire – who paid for the trip – a childhood cancer survivor, a professor and an engineer. The quartet, which only stayed in orbit for three days, used the launch as a way to raise charity for St. Jude Children’s Hospital. This was SpaceX’s first truly private manned space flight mission.
Although Inspiration4 is not a NASA mission, SpaceX has learned a few things from this flight that will help Crew-3’s next trip.
A NUMBER ONE PROBLEM
The Crew Dragon that performed the Inspiration4 flight performed quite well, with the exception of one key element inside the spaceship: the toilet. This week, SpaceX revealed that a tube in the toilet that carries urine to a storage tank has come off. This caused urine to spray into the toilet ventilation system and a puddle under the floor. It wasn’t much of a problem during the flight itself.
“We didn’t even really notice it; the crew didn’t notice it until we got back, ”said William Gerstenmaier, SpaceX vice president of construction and flight reliability, at a pre-flight press conference. “We recovered the vehicle, we looked under the ground and we saw that there was contamination under the ground.”
After seeing this, SpaceX was concerned that the same issue could occur on the Crew Dragon used for Crew-2, which is currently docked at the International Space Station. Sure enough, space station astronauts got inside this Crew Dragon and found similar urine contamination under the toilet floor.
The main concern with this pooling is that it’s not just urine that collects under the ground; SpaceX adds a compound to the urine called Oxone, which removes ammonia from the liquid to help remove odors and prevent the growth of bacteria. But SpaceX worried that the mixture of Oxone and urine in the ground could actually corrode the spacecraft itself. The company performed tests of combining the mixture of urine and Oxone with aluminum – the primary metal used to make Crew Dragon – inside a chamber that simulated the same temperature and humidity. aboard the spaceship.
The toilet problem was more of an issue on Inspiration4, as the crew spent their entire mission inside Crew Dragon, using the bathroom for several days, resulting in further potential corrosion. Most of SpaceX’s other Crew Dragon missions send people directly to the International Space Station, so astronauts are usually only use the toilet before mooring. SpaceX also claims that the aluminum alloy it uses on Crew Dragon is “very immune” to corrosion.
SpaceX still chose to solve the toilet problem by making the toilet a “fully welded structure” so that there are no more parts or tubes that can come loose. This way no unwanted liquid will cause trouble again.
A SIX MONTH STAY
Crew-3 is scheduled to take off from SpaceX’s LC-39A launch site at Kennedy Space Center. The crew will then spend just under a full day in orbit before heading to the International Space Station. Crew Dragon is designed to dock autonomously with the ISS, but astronauts can intervene during the process if necessary.
Once Crew-3 arrives, there will be a changing of the guard. The four Crew-2 astronauts already aboard the space station will greet incoming astronauts and set them up. Then, in mid-November, Crew-2 members will board their own Crew Dragon and return to Earth.
As for the Crew-3 astronauts, they will be aboard the ISS for six months and are expected to return in the spring of next year.
WHAT TIME IS THE LAUNCH OF THE SPACEX CREW-3?
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket will take off Sunday, October 31 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Scheduled launch time: New York: 2:21 a.m. / San Francisco: 11:21 p.m. / London: 7:21 a.m. / Berlin: 8:21 a.m. / Moscow: 9:21 a.m. / New Delhi: 11:51 a.m. / Beijing: 2:21 p.m. / Tokyo: 3:21 p.m. / Melbourne: 5:21 p.m.
HOW TO WATCH SPACEX’S CREW DRAGON LAUNCH LIVE:
Direct: Live NASA coverage is available on YouTube and on the agency’s website.
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