NASA and SpaceX had wanted to launch the next group of astronauts to the International Space Station in late October. Still, the Crew-3 mission has been delayed many times owing to weather and health concerns. But, according to mission management, Crew-3 is now ready to launch aboard a Falcon 9 rocket on Wednesday at 9:03 p.m.
NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn, Kayla Barron, and European astronaut Matthias Maurer will launch onboard Crew Dragon Endurance for this mission. The astronauts will spend nearly six months in orbit after docking with the space station on Thursday, undertaking a mix of scientific and maintenance activities.
The first launch attempt on Halloween was canceled due to inclement weather. The launch location was good, but flight controllers were concerned about high waves and strong winds offshore as an extratropical cyclone raged over the northern Atlantic Ocean. If there had been an emergency during the Falcon 9 rocket launch, the Crew Dragon spacecraft would have had to escape into unacceptably terrible surface conditions.
During a Tuesday night news conference, SpaceX’s William Gerstenmaier revealed that the Just Read the Instructions drone ship, positioned offshore to retrieve the Falcon 9 first stage after launch, had been pounded by 20- to 25-foot seas over the last week.
These offshore storms have weakened slightly, and analysts now predict a 70% likelihood of favorable weather for a liftoff Wednesday evening, with decent downrange conditions.
A small medical concern with one of the four astronauts on the Crew-3 mission, in addition to weather, NASA said, contributed to the three-day delay in the launch attempt. According to Holly Ridings, chief flight director at Johnson Space Center, the problem was resolved on Tuesday evening.
Ridings explained that we don’t usually talk about particular crew members. We have a comprehensive health-stabilization plan in place. Several people are working to ensure that nothing goes into orbit.
Obviously, in a confined setting like the space station, you have to be highly cautious before leaving the Earth to ensure that nothing terrible happens to them while they are in orbit. NASA did state that the problem was unrelated to COVID-19.
Finally, NASA and SpaceX had to take a close look at a sluggish parachute deployment issue on Tuesday. One of the spacecraft’s four main parachutes deployed around 75 seconds after the other three when the Crew-2 mission landed on Monday night.
According to Gerstenmaier, this was not a parachute failure but rather the result of four parachutes being crammed into the top of the Crew Dragon capsule. This occurred during testing and is well known. Crew Dragon is qualified to land using three parachute systems, and its fall rate was minimal. NASA and SpaceX, on the other hand, were cautious in their assessment of the situation.
After Crew-2 landed on Monday night, the trailing parachute was flown back to SpaceX’s facilities at Kennedy Space Center, the same place where it was suspended from a crane for examination. This was done to see whether there was any damage that might have resulted in the sluggish deployment.
Gerstenmaier described each of these flights as a “present for us.” We’re still figuring out how to drive these things. We’re learning how to fly in space right now.