A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket awaits the Crew 3 astronaut launch planned early Sunday at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Photo courtesy of SpaceX
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ORLANDO, Fla., Oct. 29 (UPI) — Astronauts headed to the International Space Station from Florida early Sunday aim to spend six months doing research that is expected to help the United States prepare for even longer space missions.
Such experiments include multiple studies of astronaut health during long periods in space, plant growth without soil in microgravity and a demonstration of sensors that could help flying robots navigate spaceships like the orbiting laboratory.
SpaceX plans to send its fourth astronaut crew into orbit on a Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon capsule at 2:21 a.m. EDT Sunday from Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center.
Weather forecasts for the launch site are favorable at that time, but predictions for conditions are “marginal” along the potential abort path over the Atlantic Ocean, NASA Associate Administrator Kathy Lueders said during a press conference Friday.
In addition to science experiments, the astronauts plan to conduct several spacewalks to upgrade the space station and to welcome several private astronauts during their mission.
“Certainly, one of the pinnacles of your time on board is to have the opportunity to do a spacewalk,” NASA astronaut and mission pilot Thomas Mashburn, 61, said at a recent press conference.
“But, what we’re doing day to day in the laboratory is going to be what many of us look forward to the most. It’s really special to be at the cutting edge of an event … humans have never experienced before,” Mashburn said.
Mashburn will be launched into space with commander Raja Chari, 44, and mission specialists Kayla Barron, 34, of NASA, and Matthias Maurer, 51, of the European Space Agency. Chari, Barron and Maurer are making their first trip to space.
Packed inside the capsule are freeze-dried healthy foods, like kale and oily fish, that are part of a study to see how they could boost astronauts’ awareness and overall health, Grace Douglas, lead scientist for NASA’s Advanced Food Technology research, said during a press conference.
“We have different types of beans. We have broccoli, cauliflower, and we try to provide them in ways that are … healthy and highly acceptable, with spices to make them taste really great,” Douglas said.
The challenge is to provide food that can last for months in space without spoiling or losing nutrients, she said.
Barron and Chari are part of NASA’s Artemis corps who may visit the moon some day, so the time on the space station is vital training, Barron said at a press conference.
“This incredible engineering marvel [the space station] that we’ve been serving on continuously for two decades now is the best possible training for us in terms of personal development and the opportunity to learn from experienced people,” she said.
The capsule, named Endurance, will fly on its maiden voyage with a few upgrades SpaceX has added based on two earlier Crew Dragons that are still in operation. After 22 hours aboard the capsule, the astronauts expect to dock with the space station at 12:10 a.m. Monday.
An earlier version of this story contained the wrong day for the planned launch. It is set for early Sunday.
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launches NASA’s second crew to the International Space Station at 5:49 a.m. Friday from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Photo by Joe Marino/UPI | License Photo