BREVARD, Fla. — Despite nearly two weeks of delays, four NASA and SpaceX astronauts launched from Kennedy Space Center late Wednesday, kicking off a roughly day-long trek to the International Space Station.
Kayla Barron (left), Raja Chari, Thomas Marshburn and Matthias Maurer (right) climbed to pad 39A. It was their first day in space since the Crew Dragon capsule took off on its own twelve minutes following launch. In total, they will spend about six months on science experiments and station maintenance.
Crew-3, their mission was hampered by inclement weather conditions and minor medical issues. The original launch date was Oct. 30, but it was moved to Halloween.
While strapped in Dragon, Chari stated that sometimes flying on Halloween can be a mistake. It is honorable and fitting to be able to fly Endurance during Veteran’s Day.
Barron and Chari are active duty Navy and Air Force, respectively. Marshburn is a trained emergency room physician and Maurer is a materials science engineer representing the European Space Agency.
It was great. Chari stated, “It was better than we thought.”
Had Crew-3 launched on the first attempt, it would have relieved the previous group of astronauts, Crew-2, that took flight from KSC in April. But instead of an on-station handoff between the two crews, NASA and SpaceX teams opted to return Crew-2 back to Earth on Monday as the mission’s stay exceeded well beyond the scheduled six months. The weather also played an important role in these decisions.
That turnaround – from Crew-2’s splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico at 10:33 p.m. Monday to Crew-3’s launch at 9:03 p.m. Wednesday — marks the fastest turnaround between a crewed return and launch in human spaceflight history, NASA confirmed.
Sarah Walker from SpaceX is the director of Dragon mission administration. She said that there were several factors that helped reduce turnaround times. This record was achieved by decreasing overlap between at-sea rescue teams and improved technology, fast data reviews, long-term plan, orbital dynamics, long-term planning, and many other factors.
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Walker said that although it took a short time to turn around, enough time was left for the team to look over all of the data and verify everything was correct before we launched.
The Crew-3 astronauts are slated for Thursday’s docking with the ISS. We take a look back at their histories:
Barron, mission specialist: The 34-year-old from Richland, Washington, is a U.S. The 34-year old from Richland, Washington graduated from Naval Academy. She later received her master’s degree as nuclear engineer. In the Navy, she serves as a lieutenant commander and was part of the first class of female submariners. NASA chose Barron as its 2017 astronaut and she is making her first spaceflight.
NASA maintains a record of all people launched to space and assigns numbers based on an astronaut’s role such as pilot or, in Barron’s case, mission specialist. The agency designated her the 601st person to reach space.
Chari, commander: The 44-year old from Cedar Falls (Iowa) was an Air Force colonel. He combined his aviation experience with fighter jet training to become a pre-NASA test pilot. He was chosen to be part of NASA’s 2017 astronaut Class.
Despite this being his first mission, NASA made him commander of Crew-3 – a rare honor bestowed to spaceflight rookies. Chari was the 599th human to reach space.
Marshburn, pilot:Marshburn, a former physician in the emergency room, is currently serving as Crew-3 pilot. In 2004, Marshburn was chosen to be a space shuttle astronaut and he went on the fly the Russian Soyuz and shuttle. Marshburn is the sole veteran of the crew. His six-month space stay will be an addition to his impressive 161 days in space.
His official status is that he’s the 598th human to achieve space.
Maurer, mission specialist: A materials science engineer from Sankt Wendel, Germany, the 51-year-old marked his first flight to space with Crew-3’s launch. He is the holder of at least 10 patents, and one of few astronauts who has been trained to use both American and Russian spacesuits. In 2010, he was chosen to be an astronaut for the European Space Agency.
Maurer received the honor of becoming the 600th person in space.
SpaceX’s teams on ground at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station aren’t slowing down. SpaceX’s 60th Starlink internet satellites will be launched from Launch Complex 40 by a Falcon 9 rocket.
It will mark SpaceX’s 31st Starlink mission to date.
Follow Emre Kelly on Twitter @EmreKelly