Oct. 5 at 12:00 pm E.T. from LC-39A at the Kennedy Space Center
With hurricane Ian out of sight things have cooled down all over Florida. Not just the anxiety, but also the temperature. Today’s launch of four astronauts came with how most people envision the sunshine state, high seventies, low humidity, and a clear sky littered with white fluffy clouds. The 45th Space Launch Delta weather squadron predicted a greater than 90% chance for launch, and they appeared to have nailed that call as one couldn’t ask for a better day to watch a rocket launch. Even with the state in much needed repair thousands came to witness another historic moment as two NASA astronauts, one
JAXA astronaut, and one Russian cosmonaut launched together inside a SpaceX Dragon capsule to start their six-month journey in orbit. Taking a total of twenty-nine hours to reach the ISS (International Space Station) these four started their day before the sun rose over the space coast. With a traditional final meal before departure, they then donned their spacesuits and left the Astronaut Crew Quarters by riding down an elevator and walking through a set of double doors we all remember from the shuttle era. From there they were greeted by friends and family along with SpaceX personnel to assist them and dozens of media representatives behind them all to get the pictures before the four loaded into two white Tesla’s to begin their trek to the launch pad LC-39A.
LC-39A is where every human to ever have walked on the Moon left Earth from, after the Apollo program shut down it was converted to handle launching the Space Shuttle. When the shuttle stopped flying the pad sat empty until 2012 when SpaceX leased the complex and now once again it is where NASA sends their astronauts to space from. As part of the Commercial Crew Program, a program to facilitate the safe, reliable, and cost-effective way to transport humans via the commercial U.S. space industry to and from low Earth orbit and the ISS. So far NASA has accepted SpaceX and Boeing to handle the ferrying of astronauts thus far. So far SpaceX has sent up five operational crewed missions along with one demonstration mission in 2020 as part of the program. Boeing is hoping to launch their first crewed demonstration mission early next year as they have suffered setbacks to prevent NASA from certifying their Starliner capsule to a human safety rating.
Once the Dragon capsule was safely in orbit the crew and SpaceX mission control in California will monitor the maneuvers which will guide Crew-5 to the forward end of the space station’s Harmony module. It will gradually raise its orbit to reach a rendezvous position and then finally dock with the station autonomously. The pilot will be able to take control of the vehicle, if necessary, but so far, each Dragon has undergone the procedure without a hitch. Once docked the members of Crew-5 will be welcomed inside the station by the already seven-member crew of Expedition 68. After about a week of being shown the ropes, Crew-4 will say goodbye and head home, riding their own Dragon spacecraft back through Earth’s atmosphere and splash down off the coast of Florida.
The crew rotation also means a new set of scientific experiments and new research as well. These include but are not limited to the studies on printing human organs in space, understanding fuel systems operating on the Moon and a better understanding of heart disease. Below is a bit more information on each of these three major studies.
- The BioFabrication Facility (BFF) is a steppingstone in a long-term plan to manufacture whole human organs in space. In 2019, it arrived at the space station, where it successfully printed a partial human knee meniscus and a large volume of human heart cells. It returned to Earth in 2020 for maintenance and upgrades, including new temperature-controlled printheads that will allow the use of bioink formulations that were not possible in the previous BFF configuration. The BFF will return to the space station in the fall of 2022, and will continue testing the in-orbit manufacture of cardiac and orthopedic tissue and start a new program aimed at testing the manufacturing of vasculature in space.
- As we design space systems such as lunar rovers, life support systems, and fuel tanks to support future exploration missions, it is critical to understand and be able to predict how liquids behave in low gravity environments. The Liquid Behavior investigation will study how liquids move in a container in simulated lunar gravity to generate data that can be used to improve lunar rover designs.
- Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the United States. Heart stem cells could provide a sustainable source of cells to treat heart disease, and to act as a cell source for drug discovery and safety testing back on Earth. Microgravity may hold the key to increasing stem cell production, improving cell viability, and accelerating the maturation of heart stem cells. The Project EAGLE investigation will study how spaceflight affects properties of heart muscle cells derived from stem cells in an aim to establish a functional heart tissue model that mimics heart disease and can be used to test new drugs.
-credit to NASA
While staying onboard the space station Crew-5 along with their various duties and research will oversee the arrival of two cargo spacecraft, the SpaceX Dragon, and a Northrop Grumman Cygnus craft in the fall. Once their stay is complete and Crew-6 sees another four astronauts onboard they too will depart in the Dragon Endeavour and splashdown off the Florida coast.