For NASA, it marks the long-awaited start of regular crew rotations at the International Space Station, with private companies providing the lifts. There will be double the number of astronauts as the test flight earlier this year, and their mission will last a full six months.
The crew of three Americans and one Japanese are scheduled to rocket away Saturday night, provided approaching Tropical Storm Eta doesn’t interfere. It will be a speedy trip to the space station, a six-orbit express lasting under nine hours.
The four will remain in orbit until spring, when their replacements arrive aboard another SpaceX Dragon capsule. The cargo version of the capsule also will keep making regular deliveries of food and supplies.
The second crew to make the journey has three veteran fliers and one first-timer: Navy Cmdr. Victor Glover, 44, who is the pilot and lone space rookie. The Pomona man will be the first African American astronaut to spend an extended amount of time at the space station.
He says he hopes the planet looks a little different when he returns.
“I hope that it’s mainly based on the fact that we have a vaccine and that people can go about taking care of the things they need to take care of in their normal lives, safely,” Glover said.
The astronauts have named their Dragon capsule Resilience given all the challenges of 2020: coronavirus and social isolation, protests against racial injustice, and a particularly difficult election and campaign season. They have been in quarantine for a week or two and taking safety precautions – masks and social distancing – long before that.
The rest of the crew will consist of:
– Crew commander Mike Hopkins, 51, is an Air Force colonel and former space station resident who grew up on a hog and cattle farm in Missouri.
– Shannon Walker, 55, a Houston-born-and-raised physicist, also has lived before on the space station; her husband, retired astronaut Andrew Thomas, helped build the outpost.
– The Japanese Space Agency’s Soichi Noguchi, 55, another former station resident, will become the first person in decades to launch on three kinds of rocketships; he’s already flown on a U.S. space shuttle and Russian Soyuz.
They will join two Russians and one American who arrived at the space station last month from Kazakhstan.
Hopkins and his crew will ride to the launch pad in Teslas – SpaceX founder Elon Musk’s other company – in spacesuits color-coordinated with the spacecraft. But beneath all the good looks is “lots of amazing capability,” according to Glover.
“It’s a very sleek capsule. But it’s got the advantage of having great leaps in technology since the last time we built spacecraft here in this country,” Walker said in a recent interview with The Associated Press.
Noguchi, who along with Walker joined the crew just this year, is particularly excited about riding a Dragon. In Japan, the dragon is an esteemed mythical creature – “almost a ride to the heaven.”
“It’s quite a privilege to learn how to train the Dragon actually, how to ride a Dragon,” he said. “SpaceX did pretty good job teaching from scratch to dragon rider in six months.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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