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WASHINGTON (AFP) – Three American astronauts and a German are scheduled to fly to the International Space Station on Wednesday night for a six-month orbit mission, a much-delayed take-off originally scheduled to take place ten days earlier.
They will have to replace the crew that has just left the ISS, which includes Frenchman Thomas Pesquet, who returned to Earth overnight Monday through Tuesday.
They will be launched by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Florida at 9:03 p.m. local time on Wednesday (02:03 GMT Thursday). Their Dragon capsule is scheduled to dock at the station at 7:10 p.m. Thursday (00:10 GMT Friday).
NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Kayla Barron and Tom Marshburn, as well as European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Matthias Maurer, are in quarantine for days at the Kennedy Space Center.
They were initially scheduled to leave in late October, but takeoff was delayed several times, notably due to weather, then due to a “minor health issue” with an astronaut – which NASA did not provide further details on.
So the space agency decided to bring the crew of Crew-2, including Thomas Pesquet, back to Earth before launching Crew-3. The handover period between the two crews, which normally takes place in zero gravity for a few days, was therefore unable to take place.
The mission is called Crew-3 because it is the third operational to the ISS provided by SpaceX on behalf of NASA.
But this is actually the fifth time that Elon Musk’s company has launched humans into orbit: before Crew-1 and Crew-2, a test mission (Demo-2) sent two astronauts to the ISS. And in September, SpaceX also launched four tourists for three days into space, independent of NASA.
The crew of Crew-3 will join a new Dragon capsule on Wednesday, the example of which has been dubbed “endurance.”
This will be the third time in space for American Tom Marshburn. He has already boarded a spacecraft in 2009, then a Soyuz rocket in 2012-2013.
However, the other three astronauts will travel for the first time.
Mathias Maurer will be the twelfth German going to the class.
His mission will include many experiences. One of them aims to observe the effects of diet on the intestinal flora and immune systems of astronauts, whose defenses are often weakened by prolonged stays in space. Thus they will have the opportunity to consume a large selection of freeze-dried fruits and vegetables (squash, kale…) as well as barramundi, a fish.
Crew-3 astronauts will also perform spacewalks specifically to continue installing new solar panels on the ISS.
And they’ll host two tourism missions: Japanese ones flown by a Russian Soyuz spacecraft at the end of the year, then passengers of the X-1 mission, conducted by the company Axiom Space in partnership with SpaceX, in February 2022.
© 2021 AFP
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