NASA Preps SpaceX Crew for ISS Space Launch Later This Week

November 10, 2020 by Sara Wilkerson
The uncrewed SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft is the first Commercial Crew vehicle to visit the International Space Station. Here it is pictured with its nose cone open revealing its docking mechanism while approaching the station's Harmony module.

This week, NASA is preparing to help send Crew-1 SpaceX astronauts to the International Space Station for a six-month expedition in Earth’s lower orbit. 

This is the first crew rotation flight of the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft on a Falcon 9 rocket following certification by NASA for regular flights to the space station as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program

In a virtual conference with reporters held on Monday, NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, and Shannon Walker, as well as Soichi Noguchi from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, answered questions from the media about the upcoming Artemis mission. 

In a discussion about preparations for the ISS mission amid the COVID-19 pandemic and the impending Tropical Storm Eta which could make landfall later in the week, Michael Hopkins, the Crew-1’s flight commander, noted the challenges and sacrifices that they and others around them have made for the mission. 

“Well, it is 2020” joked Hopkins. “So, I guess the tropical storm, we’re not surprised by that. 

“It has been interesting, in fact, you know Victor [Glover] and I have been training for the mission for two years and Shannon and they joined us about the time the pandemic started and so, so far as they are concerned… they haven’t done training without having to work around the pandemic.” 

Continuing further, Hopkins explains that the crew had to isolate themselves to avoid COVID-19 complications as they trained for the mission. 

“That [isolation] is not only to protect us, but also, to protect the entire team. Because the trainers and the people that are building the [space] vehicles and the people that are sitting in the control rooms are all a part of that. It is, it has taken a special effort to protect everybody. And so that has changed the training a little bit. 

“It has put us in isolation a little bit and actually from our family’s perspective as well, as you can imagine…they have been more restrictive on their activities as well over the past eight months just because of the situation we are in. And so, it has been difficult,” concluded Hopkins. 

In a question posed by FOX 5 New York, the crew was asked about how different they think the world will be once they return from their six-month journey. 

Victor Glover, a newcomer to spaceflight under the NASA-SpaceX partnership, said in response, “Yes, the world is going to look different. Hopefully. I would love to see it… mainly based on the fact that we have a vaccine and that people can go about, you know, taking care of things they need to take care of in their normal lives safely. So that is the thing that I hope happens.” 

Glover continued, “I think, to put this [exploration] into context, it is something to be celebrated once we accomplish it and you know, I am honored to be in the position and to be a part of this great and experienced crew and I look forward to getting up there to do my best to make sure that we are worthy of the work put into setting us up for the mission.” 

Following the question from Fox 5 New York, Paul Rivera from WESH2 News asked the astronauts about the potential impact of the recent resignation of NASA chief Jim Bridenstine on the upcoming Crew-1 mission. 

“… I am assuming we will continue on with our Artemis mission and just keep doing what we have been doing at NASA because that is what we do,” astronaut Shannon Walker stated. 

Aside from the outside challenges facing the astronauts ahead of their six-month expedition, the crew discussed the impending challenges of the living quarters aboard the ISS. 

Hopkins noted that unlike this year’s previous SpaceX flight featuring a two-man crew, his crew features not only a bigger number of crew members, but they also face the challenge of joining Kate Rubins from NASA and Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov from Roscosmos aboard the ISS, marking an increase of the regular size of the state’s expedition missions from a six to seven member crew. 

“It’s going to be difficult with seven people,” stated Hopkins. 

Despite the challenges of the space expedition, the team reflected on the significance of their upcoming journey and the commercial partnerships between SpaceX and NASA. 

“… It’s a good reminder that anything is possible if you are willing to work hard and keep after it, [it] starts with a big dream and then you keep going and so I think, we can inspire folks… and maybe someone is falling into our footsteps,” Hopkins said. 

“In terms of relationships between SpaceX and NASA and what that means for the future spaceflights,” continued Hopkins, “I think it [the Artemis mission] is just part of this opening the door, particularly right now of lower Earth orbit, to more and more human spaceflight.” 

The launch of the Crew-1 flight to the ISS is targeted for 7:49 p.m. EST Saturday, Nov. 14, from the Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Crew Dragon is scheduled to dock to the space station at 4:20 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 15. 

Launch, pre-launch activities, and docking will air live on NASA Television and the agency’s website

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