Falcon 9 being prepared by SpaceX for a commercial voyage to the space station
At the Kennedy Space Center on Tuesday, a four-person multinational crew buckled into a SpaceX capsule atop a Falcon 9 rocket for a practice countdown that prepared them for Wednesday’s launch on a privately sponsored research mission to the multinational Space Station.
Finished Before leaving the pad to make room for an engine test firing, NASA astronaut Michael López-Alegría, Italian co-pilot Walter Villadei, European Space Agency astronaut Marcus Wandt of Sweden, and Turkey’s Alper Gezeravci spent the afternoon practicing launch-day procedures aboard their crew Dragon spacecraft.
A few hours later, SpaceX technicians activated the first stage engines of the Falcon 9 to ensure they were ready for takeoff. With luck, on Wednesday at 5:11 p.m. EST, López-Alegría and his three crewmates will launch, beginning an automated 1.5-day rendezvous with the space station.
Following last-minute repairs for a parachute problem that surfaced following a recent cargo flight and work to replace connectors holding the Crew Dragon to the Falcon 9’s upper stage that did not appear to have been torqued, or tightened, to specifications, officials stated during a late Tuesday teleconference that the rocket and spacecraft were ready to launch.
Although not many specifics were given, Benji Reed, senior director of SpaceX’s human spaceflight programs, stated that “we’re ready to fly” and that the work was done with “an abundance of caution.”
This will be the third piloted journey to the station, supported by Houston-based Axiom Space as part of an ongoing NASA-approved initiative to boost outpost use by the private sector. When the ISS is retired at the end of the decade, Axiom will use the missions to obtain the knowledge required to launch and run a commercial space station.
Among the most experienced astronauts in the United States, López-Alegría traveled to space three times on NASA’s shuttle and once on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft. He joined Axiom after leaving NASA, where he led the business’s maiden commercial trip to the International Space Station (ISS) in April 2022. He is a dual citizen of Spain and the United States.
The other members of his Ax-3 mission crew are all former European military pilots or highly experienced flight engineers. While Villadei took part in an up-and-down journey to the edge of space last year on Virgin Galactic’s winged sub-orbital spaceplane, Wandt and Gezeravci are making their first space mission.
In the event that the Ax-3 fliers launch on schedule on Wednesday, they will dock with the space station early on Friday, temporarily increasing the lab’s crew to 11. The Ax-3 pilots intend to conduct over 30 experiments over their two-week stay, most of which will be focused on understanding the impact of weightlessness on various physical and cognitive characteristics.
Chief scientist at Axiom Lucie Low stated, “This is the first all-European mission with four European astronauts representing their countries as well as the European Space Agency.”
We are eager to build on Ax-2’s achievements by bringing more academics from across the world into the global microgravity research community and giving them access to microgravity, perhaps for the first time.
Axiom notes that, “as part of an effort to develop a broader range of tasty foods in space for future space travelers,” the Italian company Barilla has contributed ready-made pasta that will be heated up and taste tested.
This Wednesday’s launch will be SpaceX’s Crew Dragon’s twelfth piloted orbital mission. NASA has sent seven long-duration crews to the station thus far, and has supported one piloted test voyage. SpaceX has launched one Earth-orbit mission, funded by Internet entrepreneur Jared Isaacman, and two commercial missions to the International Space Station (ISS) for Axiom.