KENNEDY SPACE CENTER — The first four humans to fly into space in 2023 will have to wait two more days, as crews begin Monday’s early morning launch attempt with a scheduled liftoff less than three minutes away.
The crew of four that will make up the SpaceX Crew-6 mission to the International Space Station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew program docked late Sunday aboard Crew Dragon Endeavor aboard a Falcon 9 rocket at KSC’s Launch Pad 39-A. Had it lifted off, it would have made the record fourth flight to the ISS.
At 12:34 a.m. Thursday, NASA announced that it would hold the target until SpaceX resolves a technical issue preventing Monday’s launch. It called off Tuesday’s morning attempt due to bad weather on the launch pad. Space launch Delta 45 Weather Force Jupiter offers a try a 90% chance of favorable launch conditions.
“I am proud of the focus of the NASA and SpaceX teams and of keeping Crew-6 safe,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a press release. “Human spaceflight is an inherently risky endeavor, and as always, we’ll fly when we’re ready.”
The crew departed for the pad by 11pm on Sunday, but about five minutes before liftoff, SpaceX Mission Control notified the crew of a problem with ground systems that prevented them from ensuring a rocket had a full load of triethylaluminum triethylboron. TEA-TEB), which is the ignition fluid for the Falcon 9’s first and second stage propellants. The booster for this mission makes its first flight.
“I think it’s both good and bad,” said NASA astronaut Raja Sari, who flew on SpaceX’s Crew-3 mission and was part of the rocket, which launches in 2021. “The downside is obviously, you know, you’re ready to go and you’re waiting for it. But I think what’s really encouraging and what we especially appreciate is knowing that all of the astronauts have our support and that safety is the most important thing.
After the propellant was loaded and scrubbed, the crew had to sit for about an hour before they exited the vehicle and turned off the launch escape system before returning to the astronaut crew quarters.
Commanding the Crew-6 mission is NASA astronaut Stephen Bowen, the first U.S. Navy submarine officer to fly into space, and he is making his fourth space mission, but the first for an extended stay on the station. He flew on the space shuttle Endeavor in 2008, Atlantis in 2010, and the final flight of Discovery in 2011.
He is joined by three newcomers: NASA astronaut and pilot Woody Hoberg, mission specialist and United Arab Emirates astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi, and mission specialist and Roscosmos astronaut Andrey Fedayev.
They arrived at KSC on Tuesday morning to prepare for lift-off in a week.
“I think you have more here today than the last few shuttle launches, so it’s incredible to see the excitement building and still be a part of all of this,” Bowen said.
They will join the seven crews already orbiting the station and become part of Expeditions 68 and 69 as part of a continuous presence from November 2000.
Hoberg, a member of the 12-member astronaut class of 2017, will become the sixth person from that class, known as The Turtles, to fly into space.
“When I came to NASA we weren’t launching from Florida,” he said. “Now we’ve arrived in Florida on a beautiful day. We’ve flown over our pad. And it’s a wonderful special moment.
Crew Dragon Endeavor is the first SpaceX capsule to carry astronauts into space on the DEMO-2 mission in May 2020. And in 2011 it returned a human spaceflight from the US for the first time since the end of the space shuttle program. 2 and the first private spaceflight to the ISS for Axiom Spacecraft.
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“They will be very busy supporting a large number of vehicles that come and go, and they will support more than 200 science experiments and technical demonstrations,” said Dana Weigel, NASA’s deputy manager for the ISS program. Flight readiness review this week. “They have a wide range of research objectives, including investigations aimed at further developing the capabilities we need to go beyond low Earth orbit.”
Other science in the pipeline will study how things burn in microgravity and tissue chip research on heart, brain and cartilage functions, he said.
This will mark SpaceX’s sixth operational crew flight in 2023 and ninth overall, with three more to follow in 2023. Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner took a long time to get to its first crew test flight. The Crew-6s will remain in mid-to-late April with a potential launch that will briefly house two NASA astronauts. The Crew-6 shelter expects a 10-day visit to the station from Axiom Space’s second private mission in early May and two resupply missions in the coming months. Their work is expected to last Crew-7 until next September.
“So it’s been a very busy time for us,” Weigel said.
Monday’s scrub is the first of three launch attempts on SpaceX’s calendar, with a Starlink launch from California at 2:31 p.m. and another Starlink launch from the Cape Canaveral Space Force Station at 6:13 p.m.
If both fly, it will mark the fastest turnaround between two SpaceX launches, with less than four hours between launches. The previous schedule was 53 minutes apart, which would have set the record for a US orbital launch set in 1966 by James Lovell and Buzz Aldrin, who made a 99-minute turnaround during the Gemini XII mission. Both took off on a Titan II rocket from what was then Cape Kennedy’s Launch Complex 19, after the mission’s Agena target vehicle launched a mile south at Launch Complex 14. Gemini and Agena vehicles were launched together. Apollo lunar missions.
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