SpaceX takes four astronauts to the International Space Station
Sylvie Claire / April 23, 2021
Initially planned on Thursday but postponed because of unfavorable weather conditions, the takeoff must take place on Friday at 05H49 (09H49 GMT) from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
" The weather looks like it's cooperating, so we should try to take off tomorrow!" tweeted Thomas Pesquet, who will become the first European to fly aboard a Crew Dragon capsule.
Our friends on the ISS are waiting for us and we don't want to be late, they prepared my room very recently and literally made my bed. A five-star guest room, he added.
With three Russians on board, the station will indeed be unusually populated, with no less than 11 people.
In addition to Thomas Pesquet for the European Space Agency (ESA), the mission named Crew-2 includes two American astronauts, Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, and the Japanese Akihiko Hoshide.
All have been in space before.
The European space agency has nicknamed the mission Alpha, in reference to Alpha Centauri, the closest star system to our solar system.
SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk, has won over Nasa for space transportation at a time when Boeing's Starliner capsule is experiencing delays in its test flights.
This is the third time SpaceX will send humans to the ISS as part of its multi-billion dollar contract with Nasa.
The success in May 2020 of SpaceX's first manned test flight broke the Russian moopoly on flights to the ISS and gave the Americans back the ability to accomplish this feat, after the end of the Shuttle" spacecraft program in 2011.
When it comes to preparing the operation, it's always easier the third time, Daniel Forrestel, a Nasa launch manager, told AFP.
I wouldn't describe a trip to space as "routine"; 'more familiar' is more appropriate, he added.
Friday's flight will reuse the booster that was used on an unmanned test mission, a first, and the Crew Dragon spacecraft will be the same one used on last May's manned test flight.
Thomas Pesquet had told journalists that his presence underlined Europe's commitment to the conquest of space.
It is important for us as a (space) agency because we have been part of the ISS program for 20 years now and we intend to participate in what will happen next, said the Frenchman, referring in particular to the manned flight to the Moon program, Artemis.
Germany's Matthias Maurer will be the next European to fly on a SpaceX mission this fall, followed by Italy's Samantha Cristoforetti next spring.
Thomas Pesquet had also confided to AFP his excitement at the idea of traveling in the futuristic and fully autonomous capsule Crew Dragon, very different from the Russian Soyuz spacecraft he knows.
The way it's done, it's just fantastic, you know what's going on all the time, he said.
On Soyuz, it is incredibly reliable, but it was necessary to understand all this information (...) scattered in the four corners of the dashboard, and that's why the training was much longer.
The four astronauts will cross paths with the Crew-1 team for a few days before the latter returns from its mission.
It will be a slumber party atmosphere with an astronaut sleeping in each of the docked SpaceX capsules, said Ben Stahl, who works on the Crew-2 mission.
On Thursday, Thomas Pesquet detailed on Twitter what he would eat for his final meal before takeoff: Roast chicken and mashed potatoes, cheese platter and baguette, ice cream for dessert. Bon appétit, see you in space, he said.
During its six-month mission, the team will be in charge of conducting about 100 scientific experiments. Among the favorites, according to Thomas Pesquet, the examination of the effects of weightlessness on cerebral organoids (mini-brains created in the laboratory).
Scientists hope this research can help space agencies prepare for missions that will expose teams to the hardships of space for long periods of time, and even help combat brain diseases on Earth.
Another important part of the mission: upgrading the station's solar power system by installing new compact panels that roll out like a huge yoga mat.