It’s been a busy year for human spaceflight, with three short tourist flights to the edge of space, an orbital journey by a team of amateur astronauts, a Russian film crew shooting movie scenes in orbit and two Chinese crews visiting the country’s new space station.
Amid all this activity, American and Russian spacecraft have been traveling to and from the International Space Station, and they’ll do it again on the early hours of Sunday morning, when one NASA crew arrives to relieve another that has been in orbit since April.
Here’s what you need to know about the flight, Crew-3, and the team of astronauts it will carry.
When is the launch and how can I watch it?
Liftoff of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, with the astronauts in the Crew Dragon sitting on top, is slated for 2:21 a.m. Eastern time on Sunday, or Halloween. NASA will host a livestream of the launch on its YouTube channel beginning at 10 p.m. Saturday.
That video stream will last through Crew Dragon’s docking at the space station less than 24 hours later, expected at 12:10 a.m. on Monday. The astronauts will board the station shortly after and partake in a live-streamed welcoming ceremony at 2:20 a.m. to greet the space station’s current inhabitants.
Weather around NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where Falcon 9 will launch from, is expected to be favorable for an on-time liftoff.
But officials also monitor weather conditions along the path Falcon 9 takes to get to space, a trajectory called the ascent corridor that runs north along the East Coast. If weather conditions along that path worsen, the Crew-3 launch would be pushed to Wednesday, with a new liftoff time even earlier, at 1:10 a.m.
Who are the astronauts?
Three of the four astronauts on Crew-3 are flying to space for the first time.
Raja Chari, the mission’s commander, is 44 and will be the fifth astronaut of Indian descent to go to space. He was a test pilot and an Air Force colonel who flew combat missions in Iraq before joining NASA’s astronaut corps in 2017.
Matthias Maurer, Crew-3’s mission specialist, is a German astronaut representing the European Space Agency. Mr. Maurer, 51, joined the European astronaut corps in 2015.
Kayla Barron, 34, also joined NASA’s astronaut corps in 2017. She was among the first group of women to serve on a Navy submarine. She and Mr. Chari are both members of NASA’s Artemis astronaut corps — a cadre of 18 astronauts who are eligible to travel to or around the moon in the future.
Tom Marshburn, 61, who will set off on his third trek to orbit since joining NASA’s astronaut corps in 2004. Mr. Marshburn has flown on two space vehicles in the past, serving as a crew member aboard NASA’s Space Shuttle Endeavour in 2009 and on Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft in 2013.
How will the astronauts get to the space station?
SpaceX’s Crew Dragon is a gumdrop-shaped astronaut capsule that can seat up to seven people, but it has flown only four-person crews so far. The capsule launches to space atop SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, detaches from the booster once in orbit and uses a set of tiny onboard thrusters to gradually nudge itself toward a meet-up with the International Space Station.
The flights typically take about 24 hours. Shortly after reaching space, Crew Dragon lifts open a top lid, resembling the tip of an eggshell, to expose its docking adapter. The spacecraft approaches the space station in a headfirst position and autonomously docks to one of the station’s entry ports.
Have astronauts launched to the space station on Halloween before?
Just once, in 2000, almost exactly 21 years ago. The station’s first three crew members, the Russian astronauts Yuri Gidzenko, Sergei Krikalev and the American astronaut William Shepherd, were launched from Kazakhstan to the orbital laboratory aboard their Soyuz spacecraft at 3:52 a.m. Eastern time.
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