SpaceX is launching another crew into space this weekend, sending four astronauts to the International Space Station for a six-month stay in orbit. Traveling inside SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft, the crew will begin their mission early, with liftoff scheduled for 2:21 a.m. ET on October 31 from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
The mission is called Crew-3 and it will carry NASA astronauts Thomas Marshburn, Raja Chari and Kayla Barron, as well as European Space Agency astronaut Matthias Maurer. This will be the first trip to space for Maurer, Barron and Chari, the mission commander. For Marshburn, this will be his third flight into space, and for each of his missions, he has flown in a different vehicle. His first flight was on the space shuttle and his second flight was on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft. Now you can experience the Crew Dragon, which astronauts have dubbed “Endurance”.
Crew-3 is SpaceX’s third operational crewed flight for NASA as part of the space agency’s Commercial Crew Program, an initiative to use private vehicles to transport NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station. As part of its initial contract with NASA, SpaceX is scheduled to conduct up to six manned flights for the agency, with two flights tentatively scheduled for next year. However, NASA recently indicated that it is already thinking about how to transport astronauts beyond those initial missions.
While this is SpaceX’s third operational mission, it is actually the fifth time the company has launched people into orbit on the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft. In order to demonstrate the safety of Crew Dragon for NASA, SpaceX dispatched two NASA astronauts to the ISS in May 2020. That first successful test flight paved the way for SpaceX to begin routine flights with Crew Dragon. .
And in September, SpaceX launched a crewed flight called Inspiration4 that took four non-NASA astronauts into orbit. Considered an entirely civilian crew, the passengers included a tech billionaire, who paid for the trip, a childhood cancer survivor, a teacher and an engineer. The quartet, which remained in orbit for just three days, used the launch as a way to raise charity for St. Jude Children’s Hospital. It was SpaceX’s first truly private human space mission.
Although Inspiration4 was not a NASA mission, SpaceX learned a few things from that flight that will help with Crew-3’s next trip.
A PROBLEM NUMBER ONE
The Crew Dragon that flew the Inspiration4 flight ran smoothly, except for one key element within the spacecraft: the toilet. This week, SpaceX revealed that a tube in the toilet that carries urine to a storage tank came off. This caused urine to spray into the toilet vent and collect under the floor. It was not really a problem during the flight.
“We really didn’t even notice it; the crew didn’t notice it until we got back, “said William Gerstenmaier, vice president of build and flight reliability at SpaceX, during a pre-flight press conference. “We recovered the vehicle, we looked under the floor and we saw the fact that there was contamination under the floor.”
After seeing this, SpaceX was concerned that the same problem could be happening on the Crew Dragon used for Crew-2, which is currently docked to the International Space Station. Sure enough, space station astronauts entered Crew Dragon and found similar urine contamination under the toilet floor.
The main concern with this accumulation is that it is not just the urine that accumulates under the floor; SpaceX adds a compound to urine called Oxone, which removes ammonia from the liquid to help eliminate odor and prevent bacteria from growing. But SpaceX was concerned that the mixture of Oxone and urine on the ground could corrode the spacecraft itself. The company conducted tests that involved combining the mixture of urine and Oxone with aluminum, the main metal used to make Crew Dragon, within a chamber that simulated the same temperature and humidity aboard the spacecraft.
The toilet issue was more of an issue in Inspiration4, as the crew spent their entire mission inside Crew Dragon, using the bathroom for several days, leading to further potential corrosion. Most of SpaceX’s other Crew Dragon missions send people directly to the International Space Station, so astronauts are usually just use the bathroom before docking. SpaceX also claims that the aluminum alloy it uses in Crew Dragon is “very insensitive” to corrosion.
SpaceX opted to fix the toilet problem anyway by making the toilet a “fully welded structure” so that there are no longer pieces or tubes to come off. That way, no unwanted liquid will ever cause problems again.
A STAY OF SIX MONTHS
Crew-3 is ready for lift off from SpaceX’s LC-39A launch site at Kennedy Space Center. The crew will then spend a little less than a full day in orbit before meeting with the International Space Station. Crew Dragon is designed to dock autonomously to the ISS, but astronauts can intervene during the process if necessary.
Once Crew-3 arrives, there will be a changing of the guard. The four Crew-2 astronauts already aboard the space station will greet the incoming astronauts and seat them. Then in mid-November, Crew-2 members will board their own Crew Dragon and return to Earth.
As for the Crew-3 astronauts, they will be aboard the ISS for six months, scheduled to return sometime in the spring of next year.
WHAT TIME IS SPACEX CREW-3 LAUNCHING?
SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket will lift off on Sunday, October 31 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Scheduled launch time: New York: 2:21 a.m. M. / San Francisco: 11:21 p. M. / London: 7:21 a.m. M. / Berlin: 8:21 a. M. / Moscow: 9:21 a. M. / New Delhi: 11:51 a. M. / Beijing: 2:21 p. M. / Tokyo: 3:21 p. M. / Melbourne: 17:21