NASA’s Kennedy Space Center racked up a year of achievements in exploration – even in the midst of a pandemic. The Florida spaceport launched American astronauts on American rockets from American soil on NASA’s SpaceX Demo-2 and Crew-1 missions; sent robotic explorers to study the Sun, Mars, and our home planet’s oceans; made significant strides toward Artemis I in 2021, the first flight of the program slated to send the first woman and the next man to the Moon by 2024; and much more.
A team of researchers and engineers harvested radishes from the Advanced Plant Habitat (APH) ground unit as part of the Plant Habitat-02 experiment, or PH-02, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Dec. 14, 2020. This crop was a ground control for a similar crop of radishes grown aboard the International Space Station, which Astronaut Kate Rubins harvested on Nov. 30, 2020. Knowledge gained from the PH-02 experiment will enable astronauts to grow crops that will help sustain crews on long-duration space exploration missions beyond low Earth orbit.
Scientists will compare the results of the ground control experiment to the plants grown in space. The nearly identical growing conditions for both crops will make it possible to identify the effects of the space environment by measuring a range of properties including chlorophyll quantities, enzyme activity, mineral uptake, and several other traits. The major difference is the crops grown on the space station experienced microgravity, an environment vastly different from Earth’s. In microgravity, everything from fluids to flames behave differently.
The space station is a unique laboratory enabling long-duration microgravity experiments that lead to a better understanding of fundamental properties of everything from plants to physics. In space, a second crop of radishes is already growing in the APH on station for the second part of PH-02. Astronauts plan to harvest that crop on Dec. 30, 2020, and send samples back to Earth in 2021 on a SpaceX Commercial Resupply Services mission return flight.
The APH is NASA’s largest and most sophisticated growth chamber designed for plant and bioscience research aboard the space station. It has control systems and more than 180 sensors to deliver precise amounts of water while regulating and monitoring moisture levels, temperature, carbon dioxide concentration, and oxygen content. The APH provides high-intensity red, blue, green, broad spectrum white, and far-red LED light to plants in the chamber. APH’s highly automated data and photo interfaces allow researchers on the ground to access photos and real-time data telemetry while also sending remote commands to the chamber.
Before the most powerful rocket in existence can lift off for lunar missions, it must first make the 4.2-mile trek from the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) to the launch pad at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
For the Artemis I mission, the path from the VAB to Launch Complex 39B must be able to support the behemoth Crawler Transporter-2 — as well as the massive weight of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, the Orion capsule, and the mobile launcher. Teams at Kennedy are working to ensure the crawlerway is strong enough to withstand the weight and provide stability for the Artemis I mission and then some.
“Conditioning the crawlerway is important to prevent a phenomenon we call liquefaction, in which the crawler transporter, the mobile launcher, and the load on it causes the crawlerway to vibrate and shake the soil,” said Robert Schroeder, design manager of the crawlerway conditioning project and engineer at Kennedy. “Essentially, the soil itself will behave like a liquid instead of a solid, which could cause the crawler to tip to one side or the other.”
The crawlerway is currently required to support 25.5 million pounds for the Artemis I mission. However, as essential payloads will be added on future missions, the teams at Kennedy decided to test additional weight so they would be “ahead of the ballgame,” Schroeder said.
Work to prepare the crawlerway began Nov. 23. Over the next few months, technicians will lift several concrete blocks, each weighing over 40,000 pounds, onto the mobile launcher platform used for the space shuttle and Crawler Transporter-2. They will then drive the loaded transporter up and down the path between the VAB and launch pad, with each pass increasingly compacting the soil. By the time the project ends, the crawlerway will have supported more than 26 million pounds.
Artemis I will be the first in a series of increasingly complex missions to the Moon. Under the Artemis program, NASA aims to land the first woman and the next man on the Moon in 2024 and establish sustainable lunar exploration by the end of the decade.
The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket that will launch the mission from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center is vertical on the launch pad with the Crew Dragon atop, targeting a static fire test today. The Launch Readiness Review meeting now will take place Friday, with a news briefing taking place approximately one hour after the meeting concludes.
Tomorrow, the crew will participate in a countdown dress rehearsal of the launch day events for the first crew rotation flight of a U.S. commercial spacecraft with astronauts to the space station.
The U.S. Air Force 45th Weather Squadron predicts a 60% chance of favorable weather conditions at the launch pad for lift off of NASA’s SpaceX Crew-1 mission based on Falcon 9 Crew Dragon launch weather criteria. Teams will monitor weather conditions both for the launch area and downrange. The primary weather concerns for launch will be cumulus clouds associated with onshore moving showers along a weak frontal boundary as Eta merges with a mid-latitude system as it moves across North Florida and the Atlantic toward the end of this week.
NASA and SpaceX managers are gathered this morning to begin the Crew-1 mission’s Flight Readiness Review at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The review focuses on the preparedness of SpaceX’s crew transportation system, the International Space Station, and its international partners to support the flight, and the certification of flight readiness.
Kathy Lueders, associate administrator for NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, is leading the review. Hans Koenigsmann, vice president for Build and Flight Reliability, is the senior SpaceX official.
The teams also have additional time on Tuesday, Nov. 10, to complete the review. Approximately one hour after the review ends, the agency will hold a media teleconference with the following participants:
Kathy Lueders, associate administrator, Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, NASA Headquarters
Steve Stich, manager, Commercial Crew Program, Kennedy
Joel Montalbano, manager, International Space Station, Johnson
Norm Knight, deputy manager, Flight Operations Directorate, Johnson
Benji Reed, senior director, Human Spaceflight Programs, SpaceX
Junichi Sakai, manager, International Space Station Program, JAXA
Also, tune in to NASA Television or the agency’s website at 1:15 p.m. EST today for a Virtual Crew Media Engagement at Kennedy with the Crew-1 astronauts who will answer questions live from the Astronaut Crew Quarters inside Kennedy’s Neil Armstrong Operations & Checkout Building.
NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover, and Shannon Walker, along with Soichi Noguchi of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), entered their official quarantine period beginning Saturday, Oct. 31, in preparation for their flight to the International Space Station on NASA’s SpaceX Crew-1 mission. They will lift off at 7:49 p.m. EST Saturday, Nov. 14 aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon carried by the company’s Falcon 9 rocket from the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
For crews preparing to launch, “flight crew health stabilization” is a routine part of the final preparations for all missions to the space station. Spending the final two weeks before liftoff in quarantine will help ensure the Crew-1 crew is healthy, protecting themselves and the astronauts already on the space station.
If they are able to maintain quarantine conditions at home, crew members can choose to quarantine from there until they travel to Kennedy. If they are unable to maintain quarantine conditions at home — for example, if a household member can’t maintain quarantine because of job or school requirements — they have the option of living in the Astronaut Quarantine Facility at Johnson Space Center until they leave for Kennedy.
Some additional safeguards have been added because of the coronavirus. Anyone who will come on site or interact with the crew during the quarantine period, as well as any VIPs, will be screened for temperature and symptoms. Hopkins, Glover, Walker, and Noguchi, as well as those in direct, close contact with the crew, will be tested twice for the virus as a precaution.
Crew-1 astronauts will become the first crew to fly a full-duration mission to the space station on Crew Dragon for a six-month stay on the orbiting laboratory. They are scheduled to arrive at the space station Sunday, Nov. 15, to join NASA astronaut Kate Rubins, as well as Expedition 64 commander Sergey Ryzhikov and flight engineer Sergey Kud-Sverchkov, cosmonauts of the Russian space agency Roscosmos.
For the first time, the space station’s long-duration crew will expand to seven people with Expedition 64, increasing the amount of crew time available for research.
NASA and SpaceX now are targeting 7:49 p.m. EST Saturday, Nov. 14, for the launch of the first crew rotation mission to the International Space Station as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program.
Managers of NASA’s SpaceX Crew-1 mission will hold a media teleconference at 4 p.m. EDT Wednesday, Oct. 28, to discuss the upcoming launch, including results from recent testing of the Falcon 9 Merlin engines following unexpected data SpaceX noted during a recent non-NASA launch. Audio of the teleconference will stream live on the agency’s website.
The first commercially funded airlock for the International Space Station is ready for its journey to space. On Saturday, Oct. 10, teams moved the Nanoracks Bishop Airlock to SpaceX’s processing facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Two days later, it was packed in the Dragon spacecraft’s trunk for its ride to the orbiting laboratory.
The airlock will provide payload hosting, robotics testing, and satellite deployment, and also will serve as an outside toolbox for crew members conducting spacewalks.
The Bishop Airlock is launching on SpaceX’s 21st commercial resupply services (CRS-21) mission to the space station. This will be the first flight of SpaceX’s upgraded cargo version of Dragon, which can carry more science payloads to and from the space station.
The pressurized capsule will carry a variety of research including studies on the effects of microgravity on cardiovascular cells, how space conditions affect the interaction between microbes and minerals, and a technology demonstration of a blood analysis tool in space. CRS-21 is scheduled to launch aboard a Falcon 9 rocket from Kennedy’s Launch Complex 39A. Teams are targeting late November or early December for liftoff.
The safety and security of the world-class workforce and unique facilities at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida is critical to the agency’s missions. This week, Kennedy took delivery of two new, state-of-the-art helicopters to upgrade the center’s fleet and provide improved capabilities to protect the spaceport from the air.
The two Airbus H135 (T3) helicopters arrived at Kennedy’s Launch and Landing Facility runway on Sept. 30, after traveling from the company’s helicopter production center near Columbus, Mississippi.
Kennedy’s Flight Operations team maintains three security helicopters in its fleet and is in the process of replacing its trio of Bell Huey 2 aircraft. These new aircraft provide several technological and safety advancements, including a twin-engine system that provides a backup in the event of the loss of one engine, as well as more lifting power and expanded medical capabilities, such as better patient transportation and additional equipment and personnel in the event of a medical evacuation. It also offers increased stability when hovering at any altitude, which aids in aerial photography and other observation efforts.
The helicopters serve a variety of important uses at Kennedy. The center’s security forces use the aircraft to patrol the sky and provide protection from above during launch operations, ensuring the area is clear. Additionally, Kennedy’s environmental experts benefit from the ability to monitor wildlife and view and access difficult-to-reach locations across the 144,000-acre spaceport, which shares boundaries with the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.
The team expects to be fully transitioned to flying these first two new helicopters later this year. A third new H135 is expected to arrive at the spaceport in early 2021, completing the fleet’s upgrade.
Teams involved with NASA’s SpaceX Crew-1 mission held a series of briefings Tuesday at the agency’s Johnson Space Center about the first crew rotation mission to the International Space Station as part of the agency’s Commercial Crew Program. The mission is targeted to launch at 2:40 a.m. EDT Saturday, Oct. 31, on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
“What’s exciting about this upcoming mission is that we are actually going to fly a certified Crew Dragon,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “This is another milestone; a critical milestone in the development of our ability to launch American astronauts on American rockets from American soil — now sustainably.”
NASA and SpaceX are in the final stages of the certification reviews following the agency’s SpaceX Demo-2 test flight to the space station with astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley, which is helping verify the end-to-end capabilities, including launch, docking and return to Earth.
Teams currently are completing and applying lessons learned from Demo-2 and other test flights, including redesign of a small area of the thermal protection system around the trunk attachments, modifications to the ventilation system on the nosecone of the Dragon spacecraft, and design adjustment for measuring the barometric pressure used for parachute deployment. The teams also are coordinating with the U.S. Coast Guard to ensure crew safety upon splashdown, including extra ships and air assets to patrol the “keep out” zone to mitigate safety concerns for boaters approaching the landing area.
“This is a great milestone for us; it’s a culmination of many, many years of work with NASA and SpaceX,” said Kathy Lueders, associate administrator, Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, NASA Headquarters. “This has been a dream of ours to have commercial crew rotation seats up on the station, and we’re looking forward to many more to come.”
After certification, Crew Dragon will be the first commercial system in history capable of transporting humans to and from the space station.
“This is all leading up to the big operational cadence that we’re about to move into — and this is super cool,” said Benji Reed, senior director, Human Spaceflight Programs, SpaceX. “We’re at a point now where we are in the final lane; we’re getting ready for this launch.”
Following an Oct. 31 launch, the Crew-1 astronauts are scheduled to arrive at the space station the next day to join NASA astronaut Kate Rubins, as well as Expedition 64 commander Sergey Ryzhikov and flight engineer Sergey Kud-Sverchkov, both of the Russian space agency Roscosmos.
“It’s going to be an exciting time onboard the space station,” said Kenny Todd, deputy manager, International Space Station, NASA’s Johnson Space Center. “We’re looking forward to getting up to seven crew.”
Hopkins, Glover, Walker, and Noguchi will become the first crew to fly a full-duration mission to the space station on SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft for a six-month stay on the orbiting laboratory. For the first time, the space station’s crew will expand to seven people with Expedition 64, increasing the amount of crew time available for research.
As commander of the Crew Dragon spacecraft and the Crew-1 mission, Hopkins is responsible for all phases of flight, from launch to re-entry. He also will serve as an Expedition 64 flight engineer aboard the station. The Crew-1 astronauts named the spacecraft Resilience, highlighting the dedication the teams involved with the mission have displayed and demonstrating that when we work together, there is no limit to what we can achieve.
“As you look at the definition of resilience, I know it means functioning well in times of stress or overcoming adverse events, and I think all of us can agree that 2020 certainly has been a challenging year,” Hopkins said.
“So the name ‘Resilience’ is really in honor of the SpaceX and NASA teams, and quite frankly, it’s in honor of our families, of our colleagues, of our fellow citizens, of our international partners and our leaders that have all shown that same quality — that same characteristic — through these difficult times.”
As mission specialists, Walker and Noguchi will work closely with the commander and pilot to monitor the vehicle during the dynamic launch and re-entry phases of flight. Both are spaceflight veterans: Dragon will be the third spacecraft on which Noguchi has traveled (he flew aboard NASA’s space shuttle and a Russian Soyuz spacecraft), while Walker has spent 161 days on the orbiting laboratory.
“It’s been a very intense six months’ worth of training, but we are ready, and I am very excited to get back to the space station,” Walker said. “My experience of having already lived and worked there will give me a huge head start and make me much more efficient.”
Noguchi expressed the significance of teamwork and diversity, adding further meaning to the spacecraft’s new name.
“All of us are contributing to this wonderful team; everybody brings something to the table,” Noguchi said. “This diversity definitely brings the team’s resilience.”
For almost 20 years, humans have continuously lived and worked aboard the International Space Station, advancing scientific knowledge and demonstrating new technologies that enable us to prepare for human exploration to the Moon and Mars. NASA is enabling economic growth in low-Earth orbit to open access to space to more people, more science, and more companies than ever before.
“To be able to live on the space station for six months and during that time to be there for the 20th anniversary of human presence on the space station — and to potentially launch on the 20th anniversary of the launch of Expedition 1 — is just special,” said Glover, pilot of the Crew Dragon and second-in-command for the mission. “[It] relates to something Mike said earlier — that the power of teamwork, when we come together to work on the same thing, there’s no limit to what we can accomplish. It is truly a privilege.”