SpaceX to launch next crew of NASA’s space station to orbit

Elon Musk’s private rocket company, SpaceX, was due to launch four more astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA on Wednesday.

The astronauts include a veteran spacewalker and two younger crewmates chosen to join NASA’s forthcoming lunar missions.

The SpaceX-built launch vehicle, consisting of a Crew Dragon capsule perched atop a two-stage Falcon 9 rocket, was set for liftoff at 9:03 p.m. (0200 GMT Thursday) from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

If all goes smoothly, the three U.S. astronauts and their European Space Agency (ESA) crewmate will arrive about 22 hours later and dock with the space station 250 miles (400 km) above the Earth to begin a six-month science mission aboard the orbiting laboratory.

Liftoff originally was slated for Oct. 31 but has been repeatedly rescheduled due to a spate of bad weather. One delay was attributed to an unspecified medical issue with a crew member, the first such health-related launch postponement for a NASA mission since 1990.

As of late Tuesday night the crew, their spacecraft and ground-based launch teams were all ready for liftoff, and “the weather is go for launch,” NASA commercial crew manager Steve Stich told reporters during a pre-flight briefing.

Joining the SpaceX mission’s three NASA astronauts – flight commander Raja Chari, 44, mission pilot Tom Marshburn, 61, and mission specialist Kayla Barron, 34 – is German astronaut Matthias Maurer, 51, an ESA mission specialist.

Chari, a U.S. Air Force combat jet and test pilot, Barron, a U.S. Navy submarine officer and nuclear engineer, and Maurer, a materials science engineer, are all making their debut spaceflights aboard the Dragon vehicle, dubbed Endurance.

The three rookies will become the 599th, 600th and 601st humans in space, according to SpaceX.

Both Chari and Barron were also among the first group of 18 astronauts selected last year for NASA’s upcoming Artemis missions, aimed at returning humans to the moon later this decade, more than a half century after the Apollo lunar program ended.

Stich said spaceflight experience in low-Earth orbit and aboard the space station “is a great training ground for those kind of skills that we’ll need for return to the moon on Artemis.”


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