X

SpaceX and NASA Crew-3 dazzle during night launch to space station

Four astronauts left Earth on Wednesday evening, lifting off from Kennedy Space Center under a veil of darkness.

ryan-hs-2020
ryan-hs-2020

Jackson Ryan

See full bio
51135650621-187bc9fa5b-o
SpaceX/Flickr

A SpaceX Falcon 9 produced another picture-perfect launch from NASA's Kennedy Space Center on Wednesday evening, carrying four astronauts to the International Space Station for a six-month stay. The Crew-3 mission is the third operational flight of SpaceX's Crew Dragon, and, due to some pesky weather and a minor medical issue, it hasn't had the easiest road to the launchpad -- but it's finally on its way. 

The launch was originally scheduled for Halloween, but it was a lot more "trick" than "treat." Fortunately, when it was finally go time, there were no tricks in sight. Everything went off without a hitch.

The launch comes just hours after Crew-2 splashed down in the Atlantic on Wednesday.

You can rewatch the launch and see our running updates about the mission below.

The astronauts have entered the building

By Jackson Ryan
astronauts1.png

Chari and Marshburn head to the elevator... I wonder what type of elevator music you get?

Just under three hours before launch, the astronauts are on their way up to the top of the launch tower. 

The four astronauts on today's mission are:

  • US Navy submarine warfare officer Kayla Barron
  • Test pilot Raja Chari 
  • Veteran astronaut and emergency physician Tom Marshburn
  • European astronaut Matthias Maurer, a German materials scientist who's been with the European Space Agency for more than a decade.

Crew arms and ingress

By Jackson Ryan
astronauts2.png

Barron and Maurer moving through the SpaceX crew arm ready to enter Crew Dragon.

SpaceX/NASA

It's time for "ingress," which is just a fancy way of saying "the astronauts are going to climb into the spaceship." Chari and Marshburn are the first two astronauts to climb in. Barron and Maurer enter about 10 minutes later.

One of the most sci-fi aspects of a Crew Dragon launch is seeing the astronauts walk through the crew arm, which leads up to the Crew Dragon capsule. The white walkway and those lighting effects make it look just like something out of a movie.

Looking good

By Jackson Ryan

"The good news is... everything is looking good," says John Insprucker, the Principal Integration Engineer at SpaceX and a familiar voice for those of us who routinely tune in to SpaceX launches. 

"The weather is looking good for launch," he notes, but says "we're still showing a 30% probability of violation." 

You know what else is looking good? Perseverance rover on Mars. If you haven't heard, the rover drilled a tiny hole in some rock and has seen "something no one's ever seen before."

Two hours to go!

By Jackson Ryan
astronauts3.png

Inside the Crew Dragon capsule as Crew-3 prepares for launch.

SpaceX/NASA

We're now two hours from launch. The astronauts are buckled in and communications checks have been performed and ticked off.   

"Each crew member there is thinking about their role during the launch," says NASA astronaut Shannon Walker, who previously flew on Crew Dragon as part of the first operational mission, "and probably just trying to enjoy the experience." 

John Insprucker just jumped on to say there's been some weather blowing through Kennedy Space Center that could jeopardize the launch, but, as it stands, it's all still a GO as the weather is expected to pass by... cross those fingers and toes, eh?

Red light, green light

By Jackson Ryan
astronauts4.png

The Crew Dragon crew aren't draggin' their knuckles. They're working away.

SpaceX/NASA

The SpaceX team working outside of the capsule -- known as the closeout crew -- look like something out of Squid Game. You can see them above.
With less than 80 minutes until lift off, the closeout crew outside the Crew Dragon capsule are working away to make sure everything is good to go. Then they can give SpaceX the... green light (sorry).

This is the first flight of this particular Dragon capsule and the crew have named it "Endurance," honoring those who worked on building and testing the capsule during, well, you know, that whole pandemic thing. 

Its name does not relate to the endurance required to hold your pee on the flight to the ISS. Yes, SpaceX has had some issues with the Crew Dragon toilet but says the issue has been fixed

T minus 45 minutes

By Jackson Ryan

We are go for launch and things are progressing along nicely. While we wait we head to a quick interview on the livestream with Kelvin Manning, deputy director of the Kennedy Space Center.

NASA's moon rocket, the SLS, is currently situated at the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center, not far from where today's Falcon 9 launch takes place.

"It is just humongous," said Manning. "We're getting prepared to roll it out for a wet dress rehearsal," he adds, noting that could occur later this year or early next year. The first flight of the SLS is scheduled for (hopefully) February but astronauts won't be landing on the moon until 2025, NASA recently revealed.

The crew access arm is retracted!

By Jackson Ryan

The access arm is being retracted!

SpaceX

Fueling begins

By Jackson Ryan

As SpaceX notes, propellant load has begun. Just prior to fuelling, the Dragon's escape system is armed -- this is an important step because in an emergency situation, the Dragon capsule's own boosters launch it off the top of the rocket to protect the crew. 

You can take a look at some of the early testing of these "Super Draco" boosters from back in 2012. Look how far we've come!

Coffee time!

By Jackson Ryan

The reason I could never be an astronaut is because there's absolutely no way I could survive without a decent espresso in the morning. Pouch coffee is available on the station but that just ain't it for me. 

Speaking of, we're about 20 minutes from launch and I am going to make a coffee. Hit me up @dctrjack with your order. ☕

Bill Nelson is here!

By Jackson Ryan

NASA administrator Bill Nelson is at Kennedy Space Center and offering some pre-flight thoughts on NASA.

Nelson launched on STS-61-C, an early Space Shuttle mission that launched in January 1986. He's asked about the feeling of being in space. 

"It happens to every space flier when you look back at Earth ... and you see this beautiful creation -- our home -- suspended in the middle of nothing... it makes you want to be a better steward of our planet," he says. "It's extraordinary."

T minus 10 minutes

By Jackson Ryan
SpaceX

Things get busy now, with just 10 minutes until launch. We get some updates from Insprucker.

Range is GO.
Weather is GO.

Godspeed, Endurance.

"Sometimes when you try to fly on Halloween you get a trick instead of a treat," notes one of the Crew-3 members in communication with ground staff (I think Commandar Raja Chari?)

T minus 5 minutes

By Jackson Ryan

Various processes take place in the final five minutes. 

The strong back -- which provides all the connections to the launch vehicle -- will retract from the Falcon 9 rocket shortly. On the stream you can see the second stage of the Falcon 9 venting as it pressurizes and depressurizes. 

Stage one liquid oxygen load is complete at T minus 3 minutes. 

Crew-3 blasts off

By Jackson Ryan

Off it goes!

SpaceX

It was a long time coming after several delays but at 9:03 p.m. ET, the Falcon 9 rocket lifted off against the dark curtain of the Florida night carrying the Crew-3 astronauts to space. 

Stage separation complete

By Jackson Ryan

Second stage ignition achieved at 2:54 post-launch -- which means Crew-3 is on their way to the International Space Station.

Now for the other big show in a SpaceX launch: Falcon 9's return to Earth. That occurs about seven minutes or so after launch.

Falcon 9 touches down

By Jackson Ryan

Wait... wait... No!

SpaceX

The Falcon 9 made a perfect return to Earth, landing on a droneship stationed in the Atlantic Ocean. The trusty video feed did what it always does... struggled to stay online as the rocket's boosters slowed it down and had a nice blue screen of death.

This is the second flight of the rocket. It previously launched the CRS-22 mission in June 2021. 

Not teenage, mutant or ninja

By Jackson Ryan

You can see the turtle floating toward the back of the Crew Dragon, near Kayla Barron's seat.

SpaceX

The team's plush turtle -- "a zero-G indicator" you can see in the image above -- relates to two of the astronauts on the crew. Both commandar Raja Chari and missions specialist Kayla Barron were members of the NASA Astronaut Group 22, affectionately known as "The Turtles."

That's all folks!

By Jackson Ryan

The Crew Dragon is now in orbit and will make a series of burns to help raise it into the same orbit as the International Space Station. Essentially, the capsule will be chasing the station until it catches up and is ready to dock.

Docking is expected to occur at 7:10 p.m. ET tomorrow, Nov. 11. The hatch opening will occur at 8:45 p.m. ET. NASA will have live coverage of the event on NASA TV.

Thanks for joining us today for our very first rocket launch live blog. Hope you enjoyed the ride! 

SpaceX