An international crew of four, strapped into a SpaceX capsule atop a Falcon 9 rocket at Kennedy Space Center on Tuesday, sets the stage for Wednesday's launch of a privately funded research mission to the International Space Station for a dress rehearsal countdown.
Retired NASA astronaut Michael López-Alegria, Italian co-pilot Walter Villadei, European Space Agency astronaut Markus Vandt of Sweden and Alber Kesaravsi of Turkey rehearsed launch day procedures aboard their Crew Dragon spacecraft in the afternoon. For engine test firing.
A few hours later, SpaceX engineers checked the Falcon 9's first stage engines for their readiness to explode. If all goes well, Lopez-Alegria and her three crew members will launch at 5:11 p.m. EST on Wednesday, beginning a day-and-a-half automated rendezvous with the space station.
In a teleconference late Tuesday, officials said the rocket and spacecraft were ready to go after last-minute fixes to a parachute problem after a recent cargo flight, and that the crew was working on replacing connectors to transfer the Dragon spacecraft to the top of the Falcon 9. Does not appear to be twisted or tightened to specifications.
Few details were provided, but SpaceX senior director of human spaceflight programs Benji Reed said the mission was done „very cautiously” and „we're ready to fly.”
This is the third pilot flight to the station sponsored by Houston-based Axiom Space in a NASA-sanctioned program to increase private sector use of the outpost. After the ISS retires at the end of the decade, Axiom will use the flights to gain the experience needed to launch and operate a commercial space station.
Lopez-Alegria, one of America's most experienced astronauts, has traveled to space three times aboard NASA's space shuttles and once aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft. After retiring from NASA, he worked for Axiom, where he commanded the companyto the ISS in April 2022. He is a citizen of both the United States and Spain.
His personnel for the Ax-3 mission were all senior European military pilots or flight engineers with extensive managerial experience. Vand and Keserauci are making their first spacewalks, while Villadei took part in a flight up and down to the edge of space last year aboard Virgin Galactic's winged suborbital space plane.
Assuming Wednesday's launch is on time, the Ax-3 flyers will arrive at the space station as early as Friday, temporarily increasing the lab's staff to 11. During their two-week stay, the Ax-3 flyers plan to conduct more than 30 tests. Primarily dedicated to learning more about the effects of weightlessness on various physical and cognitive parameters.
„This… is the first all-European mission with four European astronauts representing their countries and the European Space Agency,” said Lucy Lo, Axiom's chief scientist.
„Therefore, we are excited to build on the successes of Ax-2 by continuing to expand the global microgravity research community and allowing new researchers from many countries to access microgravity, sometimes for the first time.”
On a lighter note, Italian company Barilla has offered ready-made pasta that can be heated and taste-tested, „as part of an effort to create a wide range of tasty meals in space for future astronauts,” says Axiom.
Wednesday's flight will be SpaceX's Crew Dragon 12th piloted mission to orbit. NASA sponsored a pilot test flight and has so far sent seven long-term crew members to the station. SpaceX launched two commercial flights to the Axiom to the ISS, and one Earth-orbiting mission..
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