NASA sends four astronauts to space station

November 10th at 9:03 PM Est from LC-39A at the Kennedy Space Center

Less than forty-eight hours after the return of the Crew-2 astronauts NASA and SpaceX have sent another four astronauts to the International Space Station. Originally slated to launch before the return of Crew-2, Crew-3 was forced to delay the launch first because of a minor medical issue with one of the astronauts, and then due to unfavorable weather conditions during the scheduled launch time. This forced NASA to return the members of Crew-2 home before the next group could replace them. Crew-2 splashed down off the coast of Pensacola, FL, the same locations as the first SpaceX Crew Dragon return during the DM-2 mission last May.

Crew Dragon ignition on LC-39A. Photo by: Zac Shaul – NHS

It seems like a good rhythm is being formed, launch astronauts from Florida’s East coast, and return them on the West in the Gulf of Mexico. The Crew-3 mission started Wednesday night around 5:45 PM Est when the four astronauts, Kayla Barron, Tom Marshburn, Raja Chari, and ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer exited the astronaut crew quarters at the Kennedy Space Center amidst a light rain fall to enter their Tesla SUVs donned with the NASA worm and meatball logos to transport them to the launch complex 39A just a few miles away. Rain continued to fall as they made their way through the historic space center, passed the VAB (Vehicle Assembly Building) which housed the Saturn V rockets, the Space Shuttles, and currently the SLS, or Space Launch System, NASA’s largest most powerful rocket yet built.

Once the astronauts arrived on the launch pad and elevator was taken for them to climb into the Crew Dragon capsule atop the two-hundred-foot-tall Falcon 9 rocket. From there crews strapped them into their seats, closed the hatch to the capsule and initiated checks for leaks, and to make sure all systems were running smoothly. Around seven o’clock the rain began to stop and dark clouds above started to clear up slightly, giving hope that the launch may occur on time. Shortly after eight pm fueling the launch abort system was armed and liquid oxygen and hydrogen fuel started to pump into the rockets first and second stage to give the power needed to reach their desired orbit.

Falcon 9’s engines at liftoff. Photo by: Kyle Montgomer – NHS

Around eight minutes after lift off the First stage of the rocket landed safely back on the SpaceX drone ship ASOG (A Shortfall of Gravitas) after separating from the second stage and capsule minutes prior. About four minutes later when the second stage ended its burn the Dragon capsule left that second stage behind using its tiny Draco thrusters to edge itself closer to the desired inclination and begin an almost twenty-two-hour ride to catch up with the space station. When the capsule nears the station it’s nose cone will open up and automated systems will bring the Dragon in where it will dock at one of the stations ports. Inside that nose cone is the hatch where after equalizing pressure will open and lead the four members of Crew-3 into the station where three other humans are currently waiting aboard.

The Crew-3 team will stay onboard the ISS (International Space Station) for roughly six months until they are replaced by the Crew-4 astronauts in April of next year. During their stay the astronauts will be hard at work conducting scientific research in the world’s most expensive laboratory in history. In microgravity environment, biological, and physical phenomena aren’t loaded down by Earth’s gravity, meaning the researchers can get a better fundamental understanding of how something really works. Crew-3 is going to attempt to grow a perfect crystal and enhance our understanding of biological processes, also a test of the impact of diet on astronaut health, and the testing of a smartphone video guidance sensor used for navigation and control of the Astrobee (a free flying robot assistant on the space station).

This mission continues NASA’s efforts to restore and maintain American leadership in human spaceflight which includes regular, long duration commercial crew rotation missions which enable NASA to continue research and technology studies which take place aboard the space station. This research supports and benefits not just people on Earth but also lays the groundwork for exploration missions which will return us to the Moon, and send us to Mars.