All eyes on Eta as astronauts, SpaceX prepare for launch this week from Florida

Astronauts arrive at KSC, flight readiness review underway

The first astronaut launch from American soil happened earlier this summer despite the afternoon storms Florida is known for -- including a tornado warning -- and this time around as SpaceX prepares to launch its second-ever group of astronauts to the space station, launch teams are up against Tropical Storm Eta.

NASA astronauts Mike Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker, along with Japanese Space Agency astronaut Soichi Noguchi arrived at Kennedy Space Center on Sunday in preparation for their launch planned for Saturday at 7:49 p.m. from the space center’s historic launchpad 39A.

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SpaceX launches astronauts for NASA and its international partners, under the commercial crew program, using its Falcon 9 rocket and the Crew Dragon spacecraft. The astronaut crew have named this space vehicle Resilience, fitting for the trying times amid a global pandemic.

This will mark the second astronaut launch by SpaceX and the first operational mission, known as Crew-1, with the Dragon spacecraft, after the company successfully launched NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken to the ISS in May and returned them home for an Apollo-era style splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico.

NASA and SpaceX teams are currently at Kennedy Space Center for the Crew-1 mission’s Flight Readiness Review, which is expected to be complete either late Monday or continue Tuesday. During the FRR, managers will discuss the SpaceX vehicles as well as the weather.

Brevard County, home to KSC, remains in the cone of uncertainty for Tropical Storm Eta, which is near the Florida Keys Monday and forecast to continue meandering in the eastern Gulf of Mexico through Friday. Schools in Brevard County were closed Monday due to winds up to 55 mph and drenching rain from Eta.

Hopkins, who will be the commander of Dragon Resilience, joked the crew was not surprised to be facing a tropical storm ahead of flight, “well it is 2020, so I guess the tropical storm, we’re not surprised by that.”

Launch weather officers with the Space Force’s 45th Weather Squadron will no doubt be watching Eta closely in the coming days ahead of the launch. It’s still too early for the 45th to issue its launch forecast.

When the four astronauts do launch, they will travel to the International Space Station and spend up to six months living and working in space.

Hopkins, Glover, Walker and Soichi will join NASA astronaut Kate Rubins and Russian cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov, making seven astronaut residents on station, however, there are only six sleeping quarters, or bedrooms. There are plans to have a temporary crew quarter sent up but Hopkins said it’s unclear when that will arrive.

Hopkins has elected to sleep in the Dragon Resilience docked at the station until a temporary sleeping station can be set up. During the Space Shuttle Program, the commander usually slept in the cockpit.

As the Dragon Resilience commander Hopkins said, “it just felt like that was where I needed to be. And if any of us were going to sleep there I felt like it, it should have been me.”

Walker said the larger crew number will require some more coordination for use of equipment on the station and experiments in the lab.

“It’s going to be interesting. I think having -- one of the big things we’re gonna have to be more mindful of is the scheduling of everything, especially the exercise equipment, because we all have to exercise every day. It’s hugely important,” she said, later adding, “I think it might be a little more crowded around the dinner table but that’s OK.”

The next update on the launch is expected sometime on Tuesday when NASA and SpaceX discuss the flight readiness review and if they are ready to move ahead with Saturday’s planned liftoff.

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