NASA, alongside their commercial partner SpaceX, is preparing for their second commercial crew launch. Crew-2 is scheduled to launch at 5:49 a.m. on Friday morning.
The first commercial crew launched in 2020 to the International Space Station (ISS). Now the second crew is gearing up for their six-month mission. Crew-2 is then scheduled to return home this fall.
Daniel Forrestel is NASA’s Launch Integration Manager for the Commercial Crew Program. He is also the Launch Rescue Director on launch day. He says the commercial partnership that NASA has developed allows for continued exploration in Earth’s lower orbit and opens the door to new endeavors.
“We’ve talked about that so much of NASA’s goal is Artemis and getting beyond the lower Earth orbit and going back to the Moon. But you can’t just leave lower Earth orbit. Someone’s got to be there. We need a human presence in lower Earth orbit. And being able to have Boeing and SpaceX come online, and other commercial providers are coming online shortly as well, having them take over the lower Earth orbit economy, and making sure that humans remain present there, has allowed NASA to start that focus more on Artemis, and the Moon and Mars.”
The SpaceX and Boeing commercial crew spacecraft have four seats for the crew, which adds an additional seat compared to the Russian Soyuz. An additional crew member means additional discoveries.
“So much of what we do at the Space Station is centered on science. And when you’ve got one more person, you’ve got more hands and more hands equals more science. So much of that science is focused on getting ready for Artemis and the goal of going back to the Moon and eventually to Mars.”
The International Space Station is not your typical laboratory. It has a few features that make it out of this world. The first is microgravity, which allows the crew to conduct experiments on the ISS that cannot occur anywhere else.
For the crew, each day is different as they investigate the vast avenues of science. They study the Earth, space, and even themselves.
“There’s a never-ending list to accomplish. A lot of what they do is focused on looking down at Earth. You’ve got so much Earth observation up there, both from taking just great shots that the public can enjoy, but also doing Earth climate science. And then, some of it is focused again on the long duration and making sure we know how to get back to the Moon and survive long duration flights to Mars. And to that end, the astronauts themselves become part of the experiments as they study how the human body adapts to being in space for a long time,” says Forrestel.
Crew-2 includes two NASA astronauts, Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, as well as Akihiko Hoshide of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and Thomas Pesquet of the European Space Agency.
NASA’s partnership with countries abroad brings a broad range of possibilities in space exploration.
“Space is not only hard, but space is expensive. The more we can build these partnerships and have other governments help us along the way, the more successful we will be. And we’re starting to already apply those lessons and those partnerships to Artemis, as we build up the plans for the Lunar Gateway and Lunar Landing. We’ve engaged with all our partners in space to make that more affordable and more successful all the way around,” says Forrestel.
Every launch is special. Forrestel shared a few fun facts about Friday’s launch ranging from reuse to keeping it in the family.
“This is the first launch that we’re reusing both the capsule and the booster. But even beyond that, this is the same capsule that took the Demo-2 Crew up, so Bob Behnken was one of the crew members on Crew 2, and his wife, Megan McArthur is going to be sitting in the exact same seat that he flew to space in.”
You may think that the excitement wears off after a few launches. Forrestel says nothing could be further from the truth.
“We’re all excited. It’s going to be a great launch. A lot of people think, ‘Well we’ve done this twice. It’s easy. Right? It’s easy.’ Space is never easy. And just because we’ve done it twice doesn’t guarantee success a third time. So, we’re really looking forward to getting this crew off the ground and having a little celebration.”
Set your clocks for Friday! The next chapter of space exploration is just around the corner.