Four astronauts headed to Kennedy Space Center on Sunday for SpaceX’s second crew launch, coming up next weekend.
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. It will be a speedy trip to the space station, a six-orbit express lasting under nine hours.
The second crew has three veteran fliers and one first-timer. From left to right:
— 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.
— Navy Cmdr. Victor Glover, 44, is the pilot and the lone space rookie; he’s from the Los Angeles area and will be the first African-American astronaut to move into the space station for a long stay.
— 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.
— 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.
The astronauts have named their Dragon capsule Resilience given all the challenges of 2020: coronavirus and social isolation, civil unrest and a particularly difficult election and campaign season. They have been in quarantine for a week and taking safety precautions — masks and social distancing — long before that.
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.
SpaceX’s Benji Reed said the company expects to launch seven Dragons over the next 14 months: three for crew and four for cargo.
They will join two Russians and one American who arrived at the space station last month from Kazakhstan.
The Associated Press contributed to this story