KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla. – Ahead of Friday’s Crew-2 mission liftoff with four astronauts from Florida, there are many critical moments leading up to the final seconds of the countdown.
NASA astronauts Megan McArthur and Shane Kimbrough, along with JAXA astronaut Akihiko Hoshide and ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet are slated to launch from Kennedy Space Center Friday at 5:49 a.m. in a SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft named Endeavour.
The launch was originally planned for Thursday morning but pushed a day due to poor weather conditions. Two days out, the 45th Weather Squadron is predicting a 90% chance of favorable weather for the new Friday launch time.
After launching on a Falcon 9 rocket, the spacecraft will catch up to the International Space Station less than 24 hours later where the astronauts will dock, becoming the third crew to fly to the orbiting laboratory via SpaceX’s spacecraft. This will actually be the second trip for this Dragon spaceship as it previously docked at the ISS last year with NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley during the Demo-2 test flight, which marked the first human spaceflight from Florida in nine years.
McArthur will now co-pilot the same spacecraft her husband, Behnken, flew in last year.
The Crew-2 astronauts are slated to spend six months living and working on the space station.
[RELATED COVERAGE: Crew-2 launch day parking, traffic rules to know | Astronauts flying reused SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, Dragon capsule]
Launch Update 🚀 @NASA and @SpaceX now are targeting Friday, April 23 at 5:49 a.m. ET for the launch of the Crew-2 mission to the @Space_Station due to unfavorable weather conditions along the flight path on Thursday.— NASA Commercial Crew (@Commercial_Crew) April 21, 2021
Learn more: https://t.co/GSBum6JjfN pic.twitter.com/ylfQx0u2qT
Here’s a breakdown of the timeline on launch day, which actually begins Thursday night:
Thursday 11:09 p.m. Astronaut wake up
The four astronauts begin their long journey by waking up at Kennedy Space Center, where they will have a meal or maybe a late-night snack. NASA hasn’t disclosed what the astronauts will be eating as their last meal on Earth for six months, but KSC Director Bob Cabana has previously said the astronauts can have whatever they would like and the food at the center is really good.
Friday 12:19 a.m.
SpaceX, NASA, JAXA and ESA teams will conduct a launch readiness briefing before proceeding with the countdown. During this review, any possible issues will be addressed.
1:29 a.m. Weather briefing
The 45th Weather Squadron will provide a launch and landing weather update for the crew. There are 14 weather conditions that could prevent the launch, or in the event of a launch abort, the recovery of the Crew Dragon spacecraft from the Atlantic Ocean.
1:39 a.m. Astronaut handoff
NASA officially hands off McArthur, Kimbrough, Hoshide and Pesquet to SpaceX teams to begin preparing them to fly in the Dragon Endeavour.
1:49 a.m. Flight suits
The astronauts will get suited up with the help of SpaceX teams. That SpaceX personnel, dressed in all black, will then perform several safety checks on the mostly white flight suits before the astronauts are ready to start heading to the launchpad.
2:29 a.m. Goodbye
The astronauts will walk out of the Neil Armstrong Operations & Checkout building where two Teslas will be waiting to take them to the launchpad after they have a few minutes to wave goodbye to their families and supporters. These four astronauts will be spending six months away from their family, friends and the comforts of Earth, but their families also make sacrifices as well.
2:34 a.m. Journey to the pad with good tunes
In two Tesla cars, the astronauts will be driven to launchpad 29A, where their spacecraft is waiting. It’s only a few miles to the launchpad from the O&C building. During the last two Crew Dragon launches, the astronauts got to choose the music they listened to on the way to the awaiting Falcon 9.
We're at L-1! On launch day, we'll be driving out to the pad about now. If you want to rock out with me, here's what I'll be playing:@foofighters Learn to Fly@ChiliPeppers Give it Away@OzzyOsbourne Crazy Train@Metallica Enter Sandman@GreenDay Waiting— Megan McArthur (@Astro_Megan) April 21, 2021
What would you play?
Astronaut Megan McArthur said she plans to listen to some Foo Fighters, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Green Day on her ride over to the pad.
They will arrive at the launchpad at 2:54 a.m. and spend a few minutes before heading up the launch tower. They also get one last chance in the launch tower to make a phone call before getting into the spacecraft.
3:29 a.m. Communications check and seat rotation
All four astronauts will be in their custom-made Dragon seats and SpaceX will check their communication systems before the astronaut seats are rotated into flight position.
3:35 a.m. Another suit check
SpaceX personnel will triple-check that the flight suits are secure and not leaking any air before backing out of the capsule.
3:54 a.m. Dragon hatch closes
The hatch to Dragon Endeavour closes and SpaceX crews will check for leaks before leaving the launch tower. This may take some time.
5:04 a.m. Falcon 9 fueling given the ‘OK’
The SpaceX launch director will verify it’s OK to begin loading propellant into the Falcon 9 rocket, however, the next few steps have to happen before fueling begins.
5:07 a.m. Crew access arm pulls away
The walkway to the spacecraft and rocket retracts now that everyone has been cleared from the tower.
5:11 a.m. Spacecraft escape system
The launchpad abort escape system on the Crew Dragon spacecraft is activated. This system would send the spacecraft away from the rocket if something goes wrong during Falcon 9 fueling.
5:14 a.m. Now fueling starts
With the escape system armed, SpaceX will begin loading rocket-grade kerosene and liquid oxygen into the first stage. At 5:55 a.m. the second stage of the rocket begins to be filled with liquid oxygen, too.
5:42-5:44 a.m. Engine chill
Falcon 9′s nine Merlin engines that power the first stage will be chilled for liftoff. The Merlin engines have to be conditioned for the super cold liquid oxygen that fuels the rocket engines.
The Dragon spacecraft is turned on to internal power.
5:48 a.m. Final checks and ‘Go’ for launch
The automated system will perform final prelaunch checks and the SpaceX launch director will make the final “Go” or “No Go” call.
5:49:02 a.m. Falcon 9 liftoff
Generating more than 1.7 million pounds of thrust, the Falcon 9 will blast off from launchpad 39A, sending Crew Dragon and its passengers into space.
6:12:37 a.m. Max Q
This is the moment of peak mechanical stress on the Falcon 9 as it barrels through Earth’s atmosphere.
5:50 a.m. First and second stage separation
The first stage of the Falcon 9 will separate and return to Earth, landing on a droneship in the Atlantic Ocean, and the second stage will continue to propel the Crew Dragon into space.
5:58 a.m. Booster landing
The Falcon 9 first stage booster should land on the “Of Course I Still Love You” droneship off Florida’s coast. This same booster launched the Crew-1 astronauts last year who are currently on the space station.
6:01 a.m. Crew Dragon on its own
Now in low-Earth orbit, the Dragon spacecraft will have separated from the second stage and begin its course to catch up to the International Space Station.
Saturday 5:10 a.m. Docking at ISS
Dragon Endeavour begins docking at the space station. The spacecraft autonomously docks but astronauts can take over if needed.
7:15 a.m. Hatch opening
7:45 a.m. Welcome ceremony
The official welcoming ceremony to the ISS for the Crew-2 astronauts.