With Hurricane Ian reaching Florida later today, NASA and SpaceX have wisely decided to postpone the launch of the Crew-5 mission to the International Space Station.
The mission was originally slated to launch from Kennedy Space Center, Florida, on Monday, October 3 at 12:46 p.m. ET, but NASA and SpaceX have pushed the date back to Tuesday, October 4, with the launch window opening at 12:23 p.m. ET. This is all weather depending, of course. As the name suggests, Crew-5 is the fifth crewed SpaceX mission under a NASA Commercial Crew Program contract.
NASA and SpaceX completed a nine-hour flight readiness review on Monday, in which no major technical issues were identified, thereby clearing the mission for launch. “We went through a very thorough review of lots of different parts of the vehicle,” Steve Stich, manager of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, told reporters during a press briefing on Monday. At the time of the briefing, the launch was still on track for its original date, but the situation changed some 24 hours later as the hurricane’s projected course and power came into focus.
Needless to say, the space agency is keeping a close watch on the raging storm. “Here at Florida, we’re no strangers to hurricanes,” Kelvin Manning, deputy director of Kennedy Space Center, said during the press briefing. Hurricane Ian is expected to slam into Florida late Wednesday as a Category 4 storm, with tropical storm-force winds likely to reach Kennedy Space Center, according to the latest NOAA projections.
The storm had already foiled NASA’s plan to launch its inaugural Artemis 1 mission to the Moon on September 27. The pending arrival of the storm forced the space agency to roll its Space Launch System (SLS) rocket back to the Vehicle Assembly Building for shelter. It’s still not clear how much of an impact the hurricane will have on Kennedy Space Center, but should the storm force NASA to delay Tuesday’s launch of Crew-5 to the ISS, the space agency has plenty of backup launch dates available, with windows appearing on October 5, 7, and 9, as NASA officials explained at the Monday briefing.
The SpaceX Crew-5 mission includes NASA astronauts Nicole Mann and Josh Cassada, who will serve as mission commander and pilot, respectively. JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) astronaut Koichi Wakata and Roscosmos cosmonaut Anna Kikina will serve as mission specialists. The four-person crew is set to spend six months aboard the ISS to conduct research and perform maintenance tasks. Once the crew members arrive on the ISS, their predecessors, Crew-4, will depart a few days later to make their return to Earth, splashing down off the coast of Florida in Crew Dragon Freedom.
Before she hops on that ride back to Earth, Crew-4 member Samantha Cristoforetti will serve as ISS commander. Her reign starts today, but it will only last for a week. That said, she’s already made history for being the first European woman to serve as ISS commander.
Kikina is poised to be the first Russian cosmonaut to ride aboard a Crew Dragon, in this case Endurance. Her participation in Crew-5 comes as part of a recent seat-swap agreement with NASA that saw NASA astronaut Frank Rubio launch to the ISS on board a Soyuz rocket earlier this month. The seat-swap comes during a time of geopolitical tensions, the result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which prompted the European Space Agency and other space industry players to cancel projects with Russia’s space agency.
“We’ve continued to appreciate that we’ve had a very professional relationship with our Russian colleagues,” Kathryn Lueders, associate administrator of NASA’s Space Operations Mission Directorate, said during the press briefing. “I know that we still have things to work through, but on at a working level, we really appreciated the constancy and the relationship even during some really, really tough times geopolitically.”