SpaceX readied a Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spacecraft for a deep overnight launch to ferry a NASA commander, a Danish co-pilot, a Japanese astronaut and a Russian cosmonaut on a 22-hour flight to the International Space Station.
Mission managers met for a launch readiness review late Wednesday and cleared NASA’s seventh operational Crew Dragon flight for takeoff. With forecasters predicting a 90% chance of good weather, liftoff from historic pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center was targeted for 3:50 a.m. EDT Friday.
The launch was contingent on a Russian Progress cargo ship, which blasted off Tuesday from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, completing its two-day rendezvous and docking at the space station as planned at 11:50 p.m. Thursday, just four hours before the Crew Dragon’s launch.
The station crew carried out an avoidance maneuver Thursday morning to prevent a possible close encounter with a piece of satellite debris, but NASA officials said the slight change in the lab’s orbit would have no impact on the Progress docking or the Crew-7 launch.
If all goes well, commander Jasmin Moghbeli, European Space Agency astronaut Andreas Mogensen, Japanese astronaut-surgeon Satoshi Furukawa and Russian cosmonaut Konstantin Borisov will catch up with the space station early Saturday, precisely matching the lab’s 260-mile-high altitude and 17,000 mph velocity.
Continuing a fully automated approach, the Crew-7 Dragon is expected to dock at the Harmony module’s space-facing port at 2:02 a.m., 22 hours after launch.
Mogensen and Furukawa each have a previous station visit to their credit, but it will be the first flight for Borisov, the third Russian to launch aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon, and for Moghbeli, a Marine Corps helicopter test pilot and veteran of more than 150 combat missions.
In a pre-launch interview with CBS News, Moghbeli, whose parents immigrated to the United States from Iran, said she knew she wanted to be an astronaut when she was in the sixth grade, writing a book report about cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space.
With a flair for math and science, Moghbeli, who was born in Germany, studied aerospace engineering at MIT while serving as captain of the school’s women’s basketball and lacrosse teams. From MIT, the Marine Corps was the logical next step.
“My family had a history of military service in Iran,” she said. “My mom’s father was a four-star admiral in Iran. I remember when he visited us in the states and told me stories, when I was in kindergarten, about his time in the navy.”
“So the idea of serving the military was really appealing to me. And I think as an immigrant who heard my parents’ stories about Iran, I recognized that there was something really special about being in this country and the opportunities afforded to me.”
She liked the idea of giving something back, she said, and military service offered just that. “And I knew that was a path to becoming an astronaut possibly as well,” she said. Her dream became reality when NASA selected her for the agency’s 2017 astronaut class.
Once docked at the space station, Moghbeli and her crewmates will be welcomed aboard by station commander Sergei Prokopyev, Dmitri Petelin and NASA astronaut Frank Rubio, who launched to the lab nearly a full year ago aboard a Soyuz spacecraft. Also on hand: Crew-6 commander Stephen Bowen, pilot Woody Hoburg, United Arab Emirates astronaut Sultan Alneyadi and cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev.
Moghbeli, Mogensen, Furukawa and Borisov are replacing Bowen and his Crew-6 colleagues., Bowen’s crew plans to undock from the station after a five-day handover, splashing down off the coast of Florida to wrap up a 185-day mission.
“They’ll have a five-day handover with the Crew-6 team where they’ll be handing over all the critical knowledge that they’ve gained while they were on board space station,” said Joel Montalbano, NASA’s ISS program manager. “And then Crew-7 will be rockin’ and rollin’ after that with a well-versed science and research program.”
Two weeks after Crew-6 departs, Russia plans to launch the Soyuz MS-24/70S spacecraft carrying cosmonauts Oleg Kononenko, Nikolai Chub and NASA’s Loral O’Hara to the space station. Liftoff is expected on September 15.
Kononenko’s crew will replace Prokopyev, Petelin and Rubio, who plan to close out a marathon 371-day mission with landing in Kazakhstan on September 27. Launched last September 21, they originally planned to come home in March, but their Soyuz suffered ain December.
A replacement Soyuz, but the crew’s stay aboard the station was extended six months to put the Russian flight sequence back on its normal schedule. As a result, Rubio will set a new U.S. single-flight record when he finally returns to Earth, exceeding by 16 days.
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