Four astronauts left for the International Space Station with a Crew Dragon on Sunday night. It is the first official mission of SpaceX’s new capsule, following a demonstration flight earlier this year. The crew is still on their way to the station.
NASA astronauts Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker and Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi were launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 1:27 a.m. on the night from Sunday to Monday. The launch was initially scheduled to take place on Saturday, but was postponed for 24 hours due to the weather. The Crew-1 Dragon capsule called Resilience flew up aboard a Falcon 9 missile. The booster later landed on SpaceX’s drone ship Just Read The Instructions in the Atlantic Ocean.
The astronauts have now entered orbit around the earth. They are expected to arrive at the station on the night from Monday to Tuesday at 5:00 am. While the launch went well, SpaceX and NASA say there was a temporary problem with the fuel heating. There would ‘something wrong with it‘, but it is unclear what. That is now a problem resolved.
The launch is unique in that it is the first official flight of astronauts on the Crew Dragon. Two astronauts already went to the ISS in May, but that was a demo flight to test the capsule’s systems. Since the Space Shuttle stopped flying in 2011, NASA had no way of sending astronauts into space itself. The space agency therefore had to turn to Russia for a lot of money to fly with the Soyuz. NASA therefore started a program involving commercial companies such as SpaceX, as well as Boeing and Sierra Nevada Corp. money to make spacecraft for astronauts.
The three NASA astronauts are fleeing new astronaut classes that started training years ago. Victor Glover, for example, joined NASA in 2013. He becomes the first black astronaut to stay on the space station for a long time. There is also one Japanese JAXA astronaut going to the station. With this mission, Soichi Noguchi is one of the few astronauts who has traveled to space in three different spacecraft.
With the arrival of the new astronauts, the International Space Station will soon be busy. There are already three astronauts there, so that will soon be seven. The ISS was built with an occupancy of six people in mind. While there have been times in the past when more astronauts were on board, that was rare. There are also only six sleeping places in the station, so Mike Hopkins is forced to sleep in the Dragon.
The astronauts will stay on the ISS for six months. That’s longer than the demo mission from earlier this year, which lasted just two months. Initially, the Crew Dragon was certified for a space stay of four months due to the solar panels on the vehicle, but these have been improved and can now last longer.