SpaceX Crew Dragon Spacecraft Vehicles continue to transport astronauts to and from ISS. Also – safety panel assesses the Artemis moon missions.
On March 3rd, The SpaceX spaceship known as the Endeavor successfully flew NASA astronauts Stephen Bowen and Woody Hoburg to the International Space Station (ISS). They were relieving Nicole Mann and John Cassada, who traveled 19 hours before landing in the waters off the coast of Tamp Bay, FL around 9pm on March 11th. Mann and Cassada had been living on the ISS for 157 days since their October 5th launch. They returned home on the Endurance – the other Crew Dragon Spacecraft from Elon Musk’s SpaceX company. Known as “Crew 5,” the astronauts to take over for them are called “Crew 6.” The 7th such crew will take the Endurance spaceship to the ISS in another six months’ time.
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During Crew 6’s months aboard the ISS, they could be visited by the “Ax-2 mission” from Axiom Space, which has been commissioned by NASA to run “private astronaut” exercises to the ISS. The specialist on board, Peggy Whitson, is an astronaut employed by the space agency, but she will be accompanied by John Shoffner, a private pilot, and two astronauts from Saudi Arabia. While that is tentatively scheduled to occur in May, the ISS might get some other visitors first. A 60-day window opens up at the beginning of April for Boeing to run its first test flight, with people on board, of its own spacecraft known as the CST-100 Starliner. After a bumpy but successful unmanned test in May 2022, the ship is set to carry NASA astronauts Barry Wilmore and Suni Williams to the ISS for a brief two week visit amongst Earth’s orbit.
The Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) has been monitoring NASA’s performance since 1968 – one year before the Apollo missions brought humans to the moon for the first time in August 1969. ASAP was created in response to the Apollo I mission, which saw three American astronauts killed in 1967. Now that the space agency is gearing up to return astronauts to the lunar surface with its Artemis missions, ASAP continues to scrutinize the agency’s activity to ensure nothing – especially the pressure of a strict deadline or schedule – impacts the safety of, or adds risk to, these missions.
Last month, the panel congratulated NASA on its successful Artemis I mission in December – but then proceeded to outline a couple of concerns, primarily involving the “safety culture” at NASA and its workforce in general. ASAP reported that it was worried about both the size and experience level of the space agency’s employees who are working on the upcoming moon missions.
Using the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion spaceship, both developed by SpaceX, the unmanned Artemis I mission spent 25 days in the lunar orbit and returned safely. ASAP noted it was concerned about the multiple launch delays, especially the incident in September where human error caused the “over-pressurization” of the rocket’s “Engine 3.” As well, on December 5th, while orbiting the moon, the Orion ship experienced an unexpected glitch. Luckily, no critical functions of the spacecraft were disrupted due to the electrical blip. The next trip to the moon, the Artemis II mission, is currently scheduled to occur at some point in 2024. This time, however, a crew of astronauts will be on board so safety will be paramount.
Until Next Time,
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