SpaceX takes off this Sunday on a historic flight, but what are the astronauts going to do on the ISS?
Sylvie Claire / November 13, 2020
On the night of Saturday to Sunday, SpaceX will launch its very first commercial flight from Cape Canaveral in Florida.
If this announcement may seem trivial, it is nevertheless a historic moment, a new page in aerospace history that is opening, that of private manned transport.
This flight also marks NASA's return to manned flights since the last flight of the space shuttle Atlantis (which closed 35 flights) on July 21, 2011.
This space trip which bears the name of Crew-1 will aim to reach the international space station which orbits 400 kilometers above the earth, it will be necessary to fly for 8 hours.
In the Crew Dragon capsule, they will be 4 astronauts: Victor Glover, Michael Hopkins and Shannon Walker are Americans who represent NASA. The latest member is Soichi Noguchi, a Japanese dependent of Jaxa, The Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency.
During the flight, Glover will pilot the Crew Dragon, named Resilience, and Hopkins will be the commander. Walker and Noguchi will be the mission specialists.
It will be 1:49 am in Belgium when the rocket takes off from the historic Cape Canaveral firing point.
Initially scheduled for October 23, this launch was postponed due to an anomaly detected on a Falcon 9 launcher. On October 2, a launch was indeed canceled 2 seconds before takeoff due to an unexpected increase in pressure in a gas generator of an engine.
Not a first
But if this flight is possible, it is also thanks to the test flight carried out last May. On board, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley were SpaceX's first two passengers. After spending 2 months in space, they returned to earth aboard the Crew Dragon capsule.
What are we doing in the ISS?
This time, the astronauts leave for a 6-month mission to the International Space Station during which several spacewalks are planned.
While many people view space travel as economic sinkholes, there are real goals in sending men and women into space.
In the ISS, astronauts work 50% of the time on experiments that could not be performed on earth. The physical properties of space make it possible to study different reactions.
During his trip to space in 2017, French astronaut Thomas Pesquet notably studied fluid physics and materials science.
But one of the main tasks is to discover the reactions of the body in this environment. In particular, we realized that during a 6-month stay in space, on the arteries, it is like taking 20 years.
We therefore study the physical aspect of the body, but also the brain's reactions in an unfamiliar environment in order to better understand its reactions.
Mars in the crosshairs
All these analyzes on the body's reactions have a specific goal, to prepare for future missions by discovering our limits. And now the journey to Mars is the next goal.
In a CNES video, Thomas Pesquet, who will take off with SpaceX in 2021, explained that "in space, we float all day. We have to do 2.5 hours of sport a day to limit bone loss and muscle loss. »
We are therefore studying the body today to see if it will be able to withstand such a long trip as the one that leads to Mars. Between the round trip and the work on site, the astronauts would be in orbit for almost 3 years. It is therefore important to know whether human bones will be able to retain their properties in an environment where they are of little use.
Next mission in March 2021
Today, in addition to the scientific aspect, this mission is a true sign of a privileged partnership between SpaceX and NASA. It also allows Americans to take off again from their soil, who previously relied on Russia and the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
The agency founded by Elon Musk is considered one of the most trusted providers of the US space agency. The first links date back to 2012 when SpaceX launched its first space station refueling flights with the cargo version of Dragon.
The flow of takeoffs will also intensify as 7 manned and cargo missions will be launched in the next 15 months. "Every time we launch a Drago, there will be two more in space simultaneously, for extended periods," said Benji Reed, head of human spaceflight at SpaceX.
The next manned mission is scheduled for March 2021. It will be inhabited by two Americans, a Japanese and the Frenchman Thomas Pasquet.