SpaceX has launched a billionaire-funded crew of space tourists into orbit – the first civilian mission of its kind

inspiration4 crew members pose in spacesuits in front of grey wall side-by-side image with falcon 9 rocket launches at night
The Inspiration4 crew lifted off aboard a Falcon 9 rocket on September 15, 2021.

A SpaceX rocket just screamed into the skies above Cape Canaveral, Florida, lifting something no orbital rocket ever had before: a spaceship filled with amateurs.

Regular people and wealthy tourists have launched into Earth’s orbit before, but always accompanied by professional astronauts. All four people who lifted off aboard a Falcon 9 rocket at 8:02 p.m. ET on Wednesday are civilians with non-astronaut day jobs. They’re a billionaire high-school dropout, a geoscientist, a physician-assistant, and an engineer.

The group has been training for a little over five months. Now they’re in Earth’s orbit, where they’ll drift for three days, venturing farther from our planet than any human has since 2009. Their mission is called Inspiration4.

The group launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, but otherwise the government agency has nothing to do with this.

Billionaire Jared Isaacman chartered the flight from SpaceX and is both footing the bill and commanding the company’s Crew Dragon spaceship. He gave the other three seats to Dr. Sian Proctor, a geoscientist who serves as an analogue astronaut in simulations of long-term Mars missions; Hayley Arceneaux, who survived bone cancer as a child and now works at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital; and Chris Sembroski, an Air Force veteran who works for Lockheed Martin.

“I can’t express enough how appreciative we are of this amazing opportunity, we know that the four of us are about to have an experience that only about 600 or so had before us,” Isaacman said in a press conference on Tuesday. “We’re very focused on making sure that we give back every bit of that time that we get on orbit for the people and the causes that matter most to us.”

inspiration4 crew poses in front of falcon 9 rocket that's laying sideways on runway at night
The Inspiration4 crew poses in front of the Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spaceship that will launch them into space. Left to right: Chris Sembroski, Jared Isaacman, Hayley Arceneaux, and Sian Proctor.

Through the flight, Isaacman aims to raise a total of $200 million for St. Jude for pediatric-cancer research by asking for donations online and auctioning items the crew is taking to space. That’s in addition to $100 million he’s already donated himself.

“There are real problems and real obligations we have to pay attention to here on Earth in order to earn the right to make progress for tomorrow,” Isaacman said.

After liftoff, the Falcon 9 rocket carried the spaceship close to orbit, then the rocket’s booster detached and fell back to Earth, landing on a drone ship at sea to fly again another day. After that, the rocket’s upper stage gave the Crew Dragon a final push before it, too, broke away.

That left the Crew Dragon and its passengers drifting above our planet 13 minutes after liftoff. The spaceship’s cabin – where the four crew members will spend the next three days – has about as much room as a walk-in closet.

Now that they’re in orbit, the group can strip off their spacesuits. They plan to eat cold pizza for dinner.

Science, art, and views from 355 miles above Earth

crew dragon spaceship above earth with glass dome cupola beneath nosecone
An illustration of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spaceship with a glass dome “cupola” at its nose.

Since Inspiration4 isn’t going to the space station, SpaceX replaced the port the spaceship usually uses for docking with a rounded window – a cupola designed to maximize the spaceship passengers’ views of Earth.

While they’re in orbit, as high as 355 miles up, the crew will enjoy 15 sunrises and sunsets each day.

To pass the time, they plan to collect data for research about how spaceflight affects the human body. Since they’re going so high, they’ll be exposed to more radiation than astronauts on the space station, which orbits at an altitude of about 250 miles. Data about how that affects the passengers’ bodies could inform research and planning related to longer-term human spaceflight to places like the moon and Mars.

So Isaacman, Proctor, Arceneaux, and Sembroski will take each other’s vitals, draw blood samples, scan their organs with an ultrasound device, and take cognitive tests on a tablet.

They’ll also carve out time for fun. Sembroski brought a ukulele to play. Proctor brought paints and markers.

Then, come Saturday or early Sunday, the Crew Dragon will fire its thrusters to push itself into the atmosphere. This will initiate a high-speed, fiery plummet. Tiles on the spaceship’s underbelly must protect its passengers as friction superheats the air around it to a 3,500-degree-Fahrenheit plasma. Then the spaceship must deploy parachutes to drift to an ocean splashdown.

Crew Dragon has carried NASA astronauts on this return journey twice without incident.

SpaceX developed the spaceship for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, a competition that awarded funding to facilitate the development of commercial spacecraft. The goal was to make human spaceflight from the US possible again, since no spaceship had launched people from the US since 2011, when the Space Shuttle Program ended. SpaceX broke that dry spell when it flew its first astronauts in May 2020.

Read the original article on Business Insider

SpaceX is about to launch 4 space tourists into Earth’s orbit. Watch it live Wednesday night.

inspiration4 crew poses in front of falcon 9 rocket that's laying sideways on runway at night
The Inspiration4 crew poses in front of the Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spaceship that will launch them into space.

For the first time ever, a spaceship carrying only inexperienced civilians is about to launch into Earth’s orbit.

After just over five months of training, four regular people are set to climb aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule and blast into space atop a Falcon 9 rocket on Wednesday. Liftoff is scheduled for sometime after 8 p.m. ET, weather permitting. SpaceX plans to broadcast the launch live starting at 4 p.m. ET, via the embed below.

None of thecrew members are professional astronauts – they’ll launch from NASA’s facilities, but the agency has little to do with it otherwise. Instead, this is SpaceX’s show, the company’s first fully private human spaceflight.

The customer – billionaire Jared Isaacman – picked the trajectory and chartered the Crew Dragon capsule directly from the rocket company. Isaacman hasn’t shared how much he paid, though he did say the total came in under $200 million.

“As long as it’s safe, whatever Jared would like to do, it’s up to him,” Elon Musk, who founded SpaceX in 2002, said during a press conference announcing the mission in February.

Isaacman decided to fly for three days and get up to 355 miles above the ground – farther from Earth than any human has traveled since 2009, when astronauts last visited the Hubble Space Telescope. The spaceship will orbit Earth but won’t dock to the space station.

Isaacman invited three others to join him.

Inspiration4 passengers sit inside crew dragon spaceship seats wearing white spacesuits
The Inspiration4 crew inside a model Crew Dragon spaceship. Left to right: Chris Sembroski, Sian Proctor, Jared Isaacman, and Hayley Arceneaux.

Hayley Arceneaux is there to represent her employer, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, which is benefitting from fundraising efforts connected to the mission. Arceneaux received treatment at St. Jude’s when she had bone cancer as a child. She has a rod in her leg as a result, and she’ll be the first person with a prosthetic to go to space.

Sian Proctor, a geoscientist, won her role as pilot by submitting a video to a contest for a seat. Proctor was a finalist for NASA’s 2009 astronaut class and has served as an analogue astronaut in simulations of long-term Mars missions on the ground.

Chris Sembroski, an engineer at Lockheed Martin, got his seat after a friend who won the raffle for it backed out, offering it to him instead. Sembroski has flown for the US Air Force and been a counselor at Space Camp.

That motley crew will spend their three days in space collecting data for scientific research, enjoying the views, and likely doing some publicity. Their mission is named Inspiration4 – partly for its designation as the first fully private amateur spaceflight, and partly as a nod to Shift4, the payment-processing company that Isaacman founded after dropping out of high school.

SpaceX flew its first astronauts for NASA last year and has since launched two other crews to the space station. The company already has a second group of private tourists lined up for next year as it leads the charge into a new era of commercial human spaceflight.

This is not like the flights other billionaires have taken

falcon 9 rocket launches at night
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying four astronauts launches from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, April 23, 2021.

The Inspiration4 mission’s five-hour launch window opens at 8:02 p.m. ET on Wednesday. Since it’s not meeting up with anything in orbit, the liftoff time is flexible. If the rocket can’t launch on Wednesday, a backup window opens at 8:05 p.m. ET on Thursday.

This is nothing like the flights two other billionaires – Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson – took in July. Both of those vehicles skimmed the edge of space for a few minutes before falling back down, since their rockets were too small to make the push into orbit.

When Inspiration4 lifts off, by contrast, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket will push the spaceship close to orbit, then the booster will detach and fall back to Earth to fly again another day.

inspiration4 crew members pose in spacesuits in front of grey wall
The Inspiration4 crew members pose in their SpaceX spacesuits.

After that, the rocket’s upper stage should give the Crew Dragon a final push before it, too, breaks away. That would leave the Crew Dragon and its passengers drifting above our planet 13 minutes after liftoff.

After that, they can strip off their spacesuits. The crew plans to eat cold pizza for dinner.

SpaceX replaced the port its spaceship usually uses to dock with the ISS with a rounded window – a cupola. This glass dome has never flown to space. It’s designed for a spaceship passenger’s most memorable experience: the views.

crew dragon spaceship above earth with glass dome cupola beneath nosecone
An illustration of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spaceship with a glass “cupola” at its nose.

Come Saturday or early Sunday, the Crew Dragon will fire its thrusters to push itself into the atmosphere. This will initiate a high-speed, fiery plummet. Tiles on the spaceship’s underbelly must protect its passengers as friction superheats the air around it to a 3,500-degree-Fahrenheit plasma. Then the spaceship must deploy parachutes to drift to an ocean splashdown.

Crew Dragon has carried astronauts on this return journey twice without incident.

SpaceX developed the spaceship for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, a competition that awarded funding to facilitate the development of commercial spacecraft. The goal was to make human spaceflight from the US possible again, since no spaceship had launched people from the US since 2011, when the Space Shuttle Program ended. SpaceX broke that dry spell when it flew its first astronauts in May 2020.

Read the original article on Business Insider

SpaceX is about to launch 4 inexperienced civilians into Earth’s orbit. Watch it live on Wednesday.

inspiration4 crew poses in front of falcon 9 rocket that's laying sideways on runway at night
The Inspiration4 crew poses in front of the Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spaceship that will launch them into space.

For the first time ever, a spaceship carrying only inexperienced civilians is about to launch into Earth’s orbit.

After just over five months of training, four regular people are set to climb aboard SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule and blast into space atop a Falcon 9 rocket on Wednesday. Liftoff is scheduled for sometime after 8 p.m. ET, weather permitting.

None of these crew members are professional astronauts – they’ll launch from NASA’s facilities, but the agency has little to do with it otherwise. Instead, this is SpaceX’s show, the company’s first fully private human spaceflight. The customer – billionaire Jared Isaacman – picked the trajectory and chartered the Crew Dragon capsule directly from the rocket company. Isaacman hasn’t shared how much he paid, though he did say the total came in under $200 million.

“As long as it’s safe, whatever Jared would like to do, it’s up to him,” Elon Musk, who founded SpaceX in 2002, said during a press conference announcing the mission in February.

Isaacman decided to fly for three days and get up to 355 miles above the ground – farther from Earth than any human has traveled since 2009, when astronauts last visited the Hubble Space Telescope. The spaceship will orbit Earth but won’t dock to the space station.

Isaacman invited three others to join him.

Inspiration4 passengers sit inside crew dragon spaceship seats wearing white spacesuits
The Inspiration4 crew inside a model Crew Dragon spaceship. Left to right: Chris Sembroski, Sian Proctor, Jared Isaacman, and Hayley Arceneaux.

Hayley Arceneaux is there to represent her employer, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, which is benefitting from fundraising efforts connected to the mission. Arceneaux received treatment at St. Jude’s when she had bone cancer as a child. She has a rod in her leg as a result, and she’ll be the first person with a prosthetic to go to space.

Sian Proctor, a geoscientist, won her role as pilot by submitting a video to a contest for a seat. Proctor was a finalist for NASA’s 2009 astronaut class and has served as an analogue astronaut in simulations of long-term Mars missions on the ground.

Chris Sembroski, an engineer at Lockheed Martin, got his seat after a friend who won the raffle for it backed out, offering it to him instead. Sembroski has flown for the US Air Force and been a counselor at Space Camp.

That motley crew will spend their three days in space collecting data for scientific research, enjoying the views, and likely doing some publicity. Their mission is named Inspiration4 – partly for its designation as the first fully private amateur spaceflight, and partly as a nod to Shift4, the payment-processing company that Isaacman founded after dropping out of high school.

SpaceX flew its first astronauts for NASA last year and has since launched two other crews to the space station. The company already has a second group of private tourists lined up for next year as it leads the charge into a new era of commercial human spaceflight.

Watch SpaceX launch its first tourists live

falcon 9 rocket launches at night
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying four astronauts launches from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, April 23, 2021.

The mission’s five-hour launch window opens at 8:02 p.m. ET on Wednesday, though the liftoff time is flexible.

SpaceX plans to broadcast the launch live starting at 4 p.m. ET, via the embed below.

If the mission can’t launch on Wednesday, a backup window opens at 8:05 p.m. ET on Thursday.

This is nothing like the flights two other billionaires – Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson – took in July. Both of those vehicles skimmed the edge of space for a few minutes before falling back down, since their rockets were too small to make the push into orbit.

When Inspiration4 lifts off, by contrast, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket will push the spaceship close to orbit, then the booster will detach and fall back to Earth to fly again another day.

inspiration4 crew members pose in spacesuits in front of grey wall
The Inspiration4 crew members pose in their SpaceX spacesuits.

After that, the rocket’s upper stage should give the Crew Dragon a final push before it, too, breaks away. That would leave the Crew Dragon and its passengers drifting above our planet 13 minutes after liftoff.

After that, they can strip off their spacesuits. The crew plans to eat cold pizza for dinner.

Since Inspiration4 won’t go to the space station, SpaceX replaced the port the spaceship usually uses for docking with a rounded window – a cupola. This glass dome has never flown to space. It’s designed for a spaceship passenger’s most memorable experience: the views.

crew dragon spaceship above earth with glass dome cupola beneath nosecone
An illustration of SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spaceship with a glass “cupola” at its nose.

Then, come Saturday or early Sunday, the Crew Dragon will fire its thrusters to push itself into the atmosphere. This will initiate a high-speed, fiery plummet. Tiles on the spaceship’s underbelly must protect its passengers as friction superheats the air around it to a 3,500-degree-Fahrenheit plasma. Then the spaceship must deploy parachutes to drift to an ocean splashdown.

Crew Dragon has carried astronauts on this return journey twice without incident.

SpaceX developed the spaceship for NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, a competition that awarded funding to facilitate the development of commercial spacecraft. The goal was to make human spaceflight from the US possible again, since no spaceship had launched people from the US since 2011, when the Space Shuttle Program ended. SpaceX broke that dry spell when it flew its first astronauts in May 2020.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Photos show how SpaceX’s first civilian crew trained by climbing Mount Rainier and flying jets. They launch Wednesday.

inspiration4 crew members screaming joy floating weightless inside plane
The Crew-2 members on a parabolic flight that simulates zero gravity. Left to right: Chris Sembroski, Hayley Arceneaux, Jared Isaacman, and Sian Proctor.

SpaceX is about to attempt a new first: launching a spaceship full of people who aren’t professional astronauts into orbit.

The four-person crew consists of a billionaire, a physician-assistant, an engineer, and a scientist. On Wednesday, weather permitting, they’ll climb aboard a Crew Dragon spaceship atop a Falcon 9 rocket, then roar into space. They’re set to orbit Earth for three days, enjoying the views and collecting data for scientific research, then plummet back through the atmosphere and parachute to a safe landing. They call their mission Inspiration4.

Billionaire Jared Isaacman chartered the flight from SpaceX and is both footing the bill and commanding the Crew Dragon spaceship. He gave the other three seats to Hayley Arceneaux, who survived bone cancer as a child and now works at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital; Chris Sembroski, an Air Force veteran who works for Lockheed Martin; and Dr. Sian Proctor, a geoscientist who serves as an analogue astronaut in simulations of long-term Mars missions.

The crew isn’t just climbing into the spaceship like you or I might board a plane. They spent five months training – studying manuals, pushing their bodies to new limits, and practicing for worst-case scenarios. They completed the training, which is largely based on NASA’s program, last week.

Even though Isaacman has spent thousands of hours flying jets and ex-military aircraft, he told Insider that the astronaut training was “more intense” than he expected.

jared isaacman and sian proctor co-pilot a jet
Jared Isaacman (left) and Sian Proctor (right) fly a fighter jet together, May 23, 2021.

“I definitely underestimated it to some extent,” he said.

When billionaires Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson each took their own rocket rides – flights which skimmed the edge of space but did not enter orbit – neither revealed the details of their training. But the Inspiration4 crew has been sharing its preparations publicly, offering a glimpse into what it takes to prepare amateurs for spaceflight.

Here’s what they’ve revealed.

Step one: Meet your rocket and watch it launch

hayley arceneaux gestures at distant spacex falcon 9 rocket on launchpad
Hayley Arceneaux gestures at a distant Falcon 9 rocket on Launch Complex 39A, April 21, 2021

Once the Inspiration4 crew was assembled, one of the first things they did together was watch SpaceX launch its third set of professional astronauts towards the International Space Station.

Arceneaux had never seen a rocket launch before.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off in the night with crew-2 mission
SpaceX’s Crew-2 mission lifts off aboard a Falcon 9 rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, April 23, 2021.

“I thought I was gonna have anxiety before the launch, but it was actually really serene,” she told Axios reporter Miriam Kramer for the podcast “How It Happened.”

The soon-to-be spacefarers used a centrifuge to simulate the feeling of launch

chris sembroski sitting inside small white chamber for centrifuge training
Chris Sembroski sits in a centrifuge chamber on March 31, 2021

A centrifuge spins really fast to create centrifugal force that pushes things outwards, much like a salad spinner or the spinning carnival ride that presses you against a wall. That force mimics the feeling of launch, when the pull of gravity on your body feels three times its normal strength. Many astronauts and pilots use centrifuges in their training.

Isaacman took his teammates up Mount Rainier

inspiration4 crew members climb mount rainier in snow ice with trekking poles
The Inspiration4 crew climbs Mount Rainier, May 1, 2021.

Washington’s Mount Rainier is a 14,410-foot active volcano covered in glaciers, with punishing weather and hazardous crevasses. Summiting requires ice axes and crampons. So Isaacman decided it would be the perfect place to break the ice with his new crewmates. They climbed the mountain together in early May.

inspiration4 crew members celebrate while climbing mount rainier in snow ice
The Inspiration4 crew poses on Mount Rainier, May 1, 2021.

“They built some mental toughness. They got comfortable being uncomfortable, which is pretty important,” Isaacman said. “Food sucks on the mountain. Temperatures can suck on the mountain. Well, that’s no different than Dragon. We don’t get to dial up and down the thermostat … And I can tell you the food isn’t great in space, from what we’ve tasted so far.”

After camping, it was time to hit the books

inspiration4 crew pose in front of display falcon 9 rocket
The Inspiration4 crew poses in front of a Falcon 9 rocket at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California, June 14, 2021.

After Mount Rainier, the crew flew to SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne, California to begin training in earnest.

“Every day was pretty much a 12-hour day, and then you were getting back to the hotel room, and you’re just studying. That was kind of the intense academic portion of the training,” Isaacman said.

They had to learn about the parts of the Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spaceship, how everything works, and what can go wrong.

“We have like 3,000 pages across 100 different manuals. It was a lot. I don’t think any of us really predicted that,” Isaacman said.

Then the crew practiced flying Crew Dragon in simulations

sian proctor wearing a headset looking at a screen in dark blue room
Sian Proctor on a visit to Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama, July 1, 2021.

Inside a mock Crew Dragon model, the Inspiration4 passengers practiced the procedure for launches and landings. Once they got used to how things are supposed to work when all goes smoothly, trainers started adding issues and spacecraft malfunctions to the simulation.

Some of these exercises involved all four crew members, but some were just for Isaacman and Proctor – the commander and pilot of the mission. Eventually, they were doing full simulations with mission control and a launch director.

In early August, the crew did a grueling 30-hour simulation

nasa astronauts doug hurley bob behnken in spacex spacesuit sit inside crew dragon capsule in front of blue control screens
NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley practice in SpaceX’s flight simulator, March 19, 2020.

Isaacman, Proctor, Arceneaux, and Sembroski put on their spacesuits, climbed in the simulation model of the Crew Dragon, and sealed themselves inside for the 30-hour ordeal. Nobody knew what was coming, not even the mission controllers. A simulation supervisor had pre-programmed everything.

They practiced a regular launch, with a weather delay included. They ate a meal and slept. But as their simulated mission began to reenter the atmosphere and fall back to Earth, all hell broke loose.

inspiration4 crew members pose in white grey spacex spacesuits in front of crew dragon spaceship
The Inspiration4 crew, in their new spacesuits, pose in front of a Crew Dragon spaceship model.

The Axios podcast recounts what happened. In the simulation, as the Crew Dragon pushed itself into Earth’s atmosphere, three computers failed. The crew lost touch with mission control. Then the capsule’s parachutes wouldn’t deploy.

“Now you’re blind, you can’t talk, and there’s no way for the chutes to come out. There’s also no way for Dragon to stabilize itself during essentially a hypersonic reentry,” Isaacman told Kramer.

dragon v2 reentry
An animation shows how the Crew Dragon capsule super-heats the material around it as it plummets through Earth’s atmosphere.

When they got their bearings, the crew realized the simulation was sending their hypothetical capsule a continent away from its intended splashdown site.

“It felt very real. You’re living in it for 30 hours. The last 45 minutes, there was awareness from us in the capsule, and them on the ground, that there is a chance that this might not be actually a survivable situation,” Isaacman told Kramer.

In the end, they landed safely, but the podcast did not specify how the crew pulled it off.

The training also involved fun parabolic flights to simulate microgravity

inspiration4 crew members screaming joy floating weightless inside plane
The Inspiration4 crew enjoys weightlessness on a parabolic flight, July 11, 2021.

In a parabolic flight, a plane flies in arcs up and down, creating up to 30 seconds of weightlessness at the peak of the arc. Some people call the planes “vomit comets.”

The team tested their bodies in a high-altitude chamber

inspiration4 crew members sian proctor and hayley arceneaux wearing gas masks in altitude chamber
Sian Proctor (left) and Hayley Arceneaux (right) in a high-altitude chamber at Duke Health in Durham, North Carolina, July 2, 2021.

It’s rare, but sometimes spaceship cabins become depressurized, just like an airplane cabin. Spaceships typically have oxygen masks on board in case this happens. But it’s still helpful to know how your body will react before you slip that mask on. Being familiar with the symptoms of oxygen deprivation can also alert crew members to a cabin leak if the spaceship’s systems don’t detect it first.

To experience those symptoms firsthand, under supervision, the crew took to an altitude chamber that exposed them to a low-oxygen environment.

“It provided great insight into each of our various symptoms,” Arceneaux said, according to a tweet from the mission’s account.

They’ve learned to draw blood and take skin samples

Inspiration4 crew in a carriage on a wire against blue skies
The Inspiration4 crew in a slidewire basket at Launch Complex 39A in Cape Canaveral, Florida, July 28, 2021.

Since scientists want more information on how spaceflight affects the body, the Inspiration4 crew offered to gather biological data for NASA. In addition to taking each other’s blood and skin samples, the crew will monitor their sleep, take daily cognitive tests on an iPad, and scan their organs with an ultrasound device. Isaacman said they didn’t realize quite how extensive this research would be

“We were like, maybe we should have talked about this before we did it,” he said.

He added that the crew members will have to take skin-cell swabs “three times a day on 10 different parts of our body.”

The crew squeezed in some jet piloting above SpaceX’s facilities in Texas

jets flying over spacex starship facilities texas
The Inspiration4 crew flies jets above SpaceX’s facilities in Boca Chica, Texas, August 28, 2021

During their training period, the crew members made public appearances, did media interviews, and took a trip to Space Camp.

While traveling back and forth across the country, aboard Isaacman’s private jets, they made a detour to fly over SpaceX’s rocket-development facilities in Boca Chica, Texas. The site, which SpaceX founder Elon Musk calls “Starbase,” is where the company is building and testing prototypes of its Starship mega-rocket and Super Heavy booster.

Earlier in the summer, Isaacman and Proctor also did fighter-jet training in Montana to brush up on their piloting skills. NASA astronauts do the same to practice thinking and responding quickly under stress.

inspiration4 crew poses with arms crossed on the tarmac at kennedy space center in florida
The Inspiration4 crew poses on the tarmac after flying into NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, September 9, 2021.

With their training complete, Isaacman, Proctor, Arceneaux, and Sembroski flew to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Thursday to complete the final preparations for launch.

They are SpaceX’s first commercial passengers, but the company aims to fly more. It already has another such mission lined up in January: For that flight, called AX-1, the company Axiom Space chartered a Crew Dragon to take customers to the International Space Station for eight days.

The AX-1 crew includes real-estate investor Larry Connor, Canadian investor Mark Pathy, and former Israeli fighter pilot Eytan Stibbe. Axiom Space’s vice president, former NASA astronaut Michael López-Alegría, will command the mission. It’s not yet clear what their training regimen will be.

This story has been updated. It was originally published September 10, 2021.

Read the original article on Business Insider

SpaceX is launching its first civilians on Wednesday. Photos reveal how they trained for the 3-day spaceflight.

inspiration4 crew members screaming joy floating weightless inside plane
The Crew-2 members on a parabolic flight that simulates zero gravity. Left to right: Chris Sembroski, Hayley Arceneaux, Jared Isaacman, and Sian Proctor.

SpaceX is about to attempt a new first: launching a spaceship full of people who aren’t professional astronauts into orbit.

The four-person crew consists of a billionaire, a physician-assistant, an engineer, and a scientist. On Wednesday, weather permitting, they’ll climb aboard a Crew Dragon spaceship atop a Falcon 9 rocket, then roar into space. They’re set to orbit Earth for three days, enjoying the views and collecting data for scientific research, then plummet back through the atmosphere and parachute to a safe landing. They call their mission Inspiration4.

Billionaire Jared Isaacman chartered the flight from SpaceX and is both footing the bill and commanding the Crew Dragon spaceship. He gave the other three seats to Hayley Arceneaux, who survived bone cancer as a child and now works at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital; Chris Sembroski, an Air Force veteran who works for Lockheed Martin; and Dr. Sian Proctor, a geoscientist who serves as an analogue astronaut in simulations of long-term Mars missions.

The crew isn’t just climbing into the spaceship like you or I might board a plane. They’ve spent the last four months training – studying manuals, pushing their bodies to new limits, and practicing for worst-case scenarios. They completed the training, which is largely based on NASA’s program, this week.

Even though Isaacman has spent thousands of hours flying jets and ex-military aircraft, he told Insider that the astronaut training was “more intense” than he expected.

jared isaacman and sian proctor co-pilot a jet
Jared Isaacman (left) and Sian Proctor (right) fly a fighter jet together, May 23, 2021.

“I definitely underestimated it to some extent,” he said.

When billionaires Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson each took their own rocket rides – flights which skimmed the edge of space but did not enter orbit – neither revealed the details of their training. But the Inspiration4 crew has been sharing its preparations publicly, offering a glimpse into what it takes to prepare amateurs for spaceflight.

Here’s what they’ve revealed.

Step one: Meet your rocket and watch it launch

hayley arceneaux gestures at distant spacex falcon 9 rocket on launchpad
Hayley Arceneaux gestures at a distant Falcon 9 rocket on Launch Complex 39A, April 21, 2021

Once the Inspiration4 crew was assembled, one of the first things they did together was watch SpaceX launch its third set of professional astronauts towards the International Space Station.

Arceneaux had never seen a rocket launch before.

SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifts off in the night with crew-2 mission
SpaceX’s Crew-2 mission lifts off aboard a Falcon 9 rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, April 23, 2021.

“I thought I was gonna have anxiety before the launch, but it was actually really serene,” she told Axios reporter Miriam Kramer for the podcast “How It Happened.”

The soon-to-be spacefarers used a centrifuge to simulate the feeling of launch

chris sembroski sitting inside small white chamber for centrifuge training
Chris Sembroski sits in a centrifuge chamber on March 31, 2021

A centrifuge spins really fast to create centrifugal force that pushes things outwards, much like a salad spinner or the spinning carnival ride that presses you against a wall. That force mimics the feeling of launch, when the pull of gravity on your body feels three times its normal strength. Many astronauts and pilots use centrifuges in their training.

Isaacman took his teammates up Mount Rainier

inspiration4 crew members climb mount rainier in snow ice with trekking poles
The Inspiration4 crew climbs Mount Rainier, May 1, 2021.

Washington’s Mount Rainier is a 14,410-foot active volcano covered in glaciers, with punishing weather and hazardous crevasses. Summiting requires ice axes and crampons. So Isaacman decided it would be the perfect place to break the ice with his new crewmates. They climbed the mountain together in early May.

inspiration4 crew members celebrate while climbing mount rainier in snow ice
The Inspiration4 crew poses on Mount Rainier, May 1, 2021.

“They built some mental toughness. They got comfortable being uncomfortable, which is pretty important,” Isaacman said. “Food sucks on the mountain. Temperatures can suck on the mountain. Well, that’s no different than Dragon. We don’t get to dial up and down the thermostat … And I can tell you the food isn’t great in space, from what we’ve tasted so far.”

After camping, it was time to hit the books

inspiration4 crew pose in front of display falcon 9 rocket
The Inspiration4 crew poses in front of a Falcon 9 rocket at SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California, June 14, 2021.

After Mount Rainier, the crew flew to SpaceX’s headquarters in Hawthorne, California to begin training in earnest.

“Every day was pretty much a 12-hour day, and then you were getting back to the hotel room, and you’re just studying. That was kind of the intense academic portion of the training,” Isaacman said.

They had to learn about the parts of the Falcon 9 rocket and Crew Dragon spaceship, how everything works, and what can go wrong.

“We have like 3,000 pages across 100 different manuals. It was a lot. I don’t think any of us really predicted that,” Isaacman said.

Then the crew practiced flying Crew Dragon in simulations

sian proctor wearing a headset looking at a screen in dark blue room
Sian Proctor on a visit to Space Camp in Huntsville, Alabama, July 1, 2021.

Inside a mock Crew Dragon model, the Inspiration4 passengers practiced the procedure for launches and landings. Once they got used to how things are supposed to work when all goes smoothly, trainers started adding issues and spacecraft malfunctions to the simulation.

Some of these exercises involved all four crew members, but some were just for Isaacman and Proctor – the commander and pilot of the mission. Eventually, they were doing full simulations with mission control and a launch director.

In early August, the crew did a grueling 30-hour simulation

nasa astronauts doug hurley bob behnken in spacex spacesuit sit inside crew dragon capsule in front of blue control screens
NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley practice in SpaceX’s flight simulator, March 19, 2020.

Isaacman, Proctor, Arceneaux, and Sembroski put on their spacesuits, climbed in the simulation model of the Crew Dragon, and sealed themselves inside for the 30-hour ordeal. Nobody knew what was coming, not even the mission controllers. A simulation supervisor had pre-programmed everything.

They practiced a regular launch, with a weather delay included. They ate a meal and slept. But as their simulated mission began to reenter the atmosphere and fall back to Earth, all hell broke loose.

The Axios podcast recounts what happened. In the simulation, as the Crew Dragon pushed itself into Earth’s atmosphere, three computers failed. The crew lost touch with mission control. Then the capsule’s parachutes wouldn’t deploy.

“Now you’re blind, you can’t talk, and there’s no way for the chutes to come out. There’s also no way for Dragon to stabilize itself during essentially a hypersonic reentry,” Isaacman told Kramer.

dragon v2 reentry
An animation shows how the Crew Dragon capsule super-heats the material around it as it plummets through Earth’s atmosphere.

When they got their bearings, the crew realized the simulation was sending their hypothetical capsule a continent away from its intended splashdown site.

“It felt very real. You’re living in it for 30 hours. The last 45 minutes, there was awareness from us in the capsule, and them on the ground, that there is a chance that this might not be actually a survivable situation,” Isaacman told Kramer.

In the end, they landed safely, but the podcast did not specify how the crew pulled it off.

The training also involved fun parabolic flights to simulate microgravity

inspiration4 crew members screaming joy floating weightless inside plane
The Inspiration4 crew enjoys weightlessness on a parabolic flight, July 11, 2021.

In a parabolic flight, a plane flies in arcs up and down, creating up to 30 seconds of weightlessness at the peak of the arc. Some people call the planes “vomit comets.”

The team tested their bodies in a high-altitude chamber

inspiration4 crew members sian proctor and hayley arceneaux wearing gas masks in altitude chamber
Sian Proctor (left) and Hayley Arceneaux (right) in a high-altitude chamber at Duke Health in Durham, North Carolina, July 2, 2021.

It’s rare, but sometimes spaceship cabins become depressurized, just like an airplane cabin. Spaceships typically have oxygen masks on board in case this happens. But it’s still helpful to know how your body will react before you slip that mask on. Being familiar with the symptoms of ozygen deprivation can also alert crew members to a cabin leak if the spaceship’s systems don’t detect it first.

To experience those symptoms firsthand, under supervision, the crew took to an altitude chamber that exposed them to a low-oxygen environment.

“It provided great insight into each of our various symptoms,” Arceneaux said, according to a tweet from the mission’s account.

They’ve learned to draw blood and take skin samples

Inspiration4 crew in a carriage on a wire against blue skies
The Inspiration4 crew in a slidewire basket at Launch Complex 39A in Cape Canaveral, Florida, July 28, 2021.

Since scientists want more information on how spaceflight affects the body, the Inspiration4 crew offered to gather biological data for NASA. In addition to taking each other’s blood and skin samples, the crew will monitor their sleep, take daily cognitive tests on an iPad, and scan their organs with an ultrasound device. Isaacman said they didn’t realize quite how extensive this research would be

“We were like, maybe we should have talked about this before we did it,” he said.

He added that the crew members will have to take skin-cell swabs “three times a day on 10 different parts of our body.”

The crew squeezed in some jet piloting above SpaceX’s facilities in Texas

jets flying over spacex starship facilities texas
The Inspiration4 crew flies jets above SpaceX’s facilities in Boca Chica, Texas, August 28, 2021

During their training period, the crew members made public appearances, did media interviews, and took trips to Space Camp and SpaceX’s rocket-development facilities in Boca Chica, Texas.

That latter site, which SpaceX founder Elon Musk calls “Starbase,” is where the company is building and testing prototypes of its Starship mega-rocket and Super Heavy booster. When they visited, the Inspiration4 crew members went for a plane ride high above the rockets.

Earlier in the summer, Isaacman and Proctor also did fighter-jet training in Montana to brush up on their piloting skills. NASA astronauts do the same to practice thinking and responding quickly under stress.

inspiration4 crew poses with arms crossed on the tarmac at kennedy space center in florida
The Inspiration4 crew poses on the tarmac after flying into NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, September 9, 2021.

With their training is complete, Isaacman, Proctor, Arceneaux, and Sembroski flew to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Thursday to complete the final preparations for launch.

They are SpaceX’s first commercial passengers, but the company aims to fly more. It already has another such mission lined up in January: For that flight, called AX-1, the company Axiom Space chartered a Crew Dragon to take customers to the International Space Station for eight days.

The AX-1 crew includes real-estate investor Larry Connor, Canadian investor Mark Pathy, and former Israeli fighter pilot Eytan Stibbe. Axiom Space’s vice president, former NASA astronaut Michael López-Alegría, will command the mission. It’s not yet clear what their training regimen will be.

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Elon Musk’s Boring Company wants to dig a tunnel so SpaceX staff can get to their Texas launch site easier, a report says

Elon Musk, co-founder and chief executive officer of Tesla Inc., speaks during an unveiling event for the Boring Company Hawthorne test tunnel in Hawthorne
Elon Musk, co-founder and chief executive officer of Tesla Inc., speaks during an unveiling event for the Boring Company Hawthorne test tunnel in Hawthorne, south of Los Angeles, California

  • Elon Musk’s The Boring Company reportedly wants to dig a tunnel near SpaceX’s Texas launch site.
  • The tunnel would link South Padre Island to Boca Chica, an official told The Brownsville Herald.
  • SpaceX staff on the island could access the launch complex via the tunnel, the official said.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Elon Musk’s The Boring Company wants to dig a transport tunnel near SpaceX’s Texas launch base to make it easier for staff to get to work, The Brownsville Herald reported on Sunday.

The Boring Company, Musk’s tunneling venture, proposed the idea in a meeting with county officials in July, Pete Sepulveda Jr., a country administrator who attended the discussion, told The Herald. SpaceX wanted to dig a tunnel between an area south of South Padre Island, where some staff live, to a spot north of Boca Chica beach, he said.

“Keep in mind that the ship channel goes by there, so that depth would have to be pretty far down,” Sepulveda told The Herald.

The tunnel would allow SpaceX staff living on South Padre Island to access the launch complex, called Starbase, in Boca Chica, Sepulveda told The Herald.

It would also give the public access to parts of Boca Chica beach, which are currently closed off due to SpaceX’s launch site activities, he added.

Insider has reached out to The Boring Company for comment.

“From what we understand from SpaceX is there is a good portion of the beach that can remain open if there was access to it, even though the road is closed and even though a portion of the beach is closed,” Sepulveda told The Herald.

Read more: The startup that built Elon Musk’s tiny house now has a 50,000-person wait list, even though its factory isn’t running yet and it’s only built 3 homes

The Boring Company opened its first underground transport system in Las Vegas in June. The 1.7-mile-long loop, with three stops, cost around $47 million to build, the company said.

The Boring Company would have to pay for the tunnel to South Padre Island because the county “wouldn’t be able to participate with any type of funding,” Sepulveda said.

Sepulveda told The Herald that the tunnel proposal hadn’t been discussed further since the meeting. The county is also considering a ferry service between South Padre Island and Boca Chica beach, he added.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Watch Boeing launch its spaceship on a do-over flight to prove it can transport astronauts for NASA

boeing cst 100 starliner spaceship nasa commercial crew program ccp illustration rendering launch orbit landing 4
A computer rendering of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spaceship orbiting Earth.

Boeing’s Starliner spaceship will attempt to redeem itself this week, after botching its last major test flight.

The company’s eventual goal is to fly astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA, the way SpaceX already does. Both companies developed their launch systems through NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, a competition that awarded funding to private companies in order to develop new astronaut-ready spacecraft.

But before carrying people, the Starliner has to complete an uncrewed test flight to and from the ISS as part of NASA’s certification process. Boeing first attempted this flight in December 2019, but it turned out that one of the spaceship’s clocks was set 11 hours ahead of schedule. The clock prompted the spaceship’s engines to fire too vigorously, too early – a move meant to come at a later stage of the mission.

That caused the spaceship to burn through 25% of its fuel, forcing Boeing to skip docking with the space station in order to save the Starliner from total failure.

Now, the company is confident that it has fixed the problems with its spaceship, so it’s time for the do-over.

“Now’s the right time. This team is ready to go, this vehicle is ready to go,” Kathy Lueders, associate administrator of NASA’s human-spaceflight directorate, said in a press briefing last week.

Watch Starliner launch live

boeing cst 100 starliner spaceship nasa commercial crew program ccp orbital flight test oft launch pad cape canaveral launch 6NHQ201912200021_orig
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft launches from Space Launch Complex 41 on December 20, 2019, at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The mission, called Orbital Flight Test 2, or OFT-2, is set to launch on Tuesday at 1:20 p.m. ET. Starliner will blast off atop an Atlas V rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

NASA plans to broadcast the whole thing, below, starting at 12:30 p.m. ET.

If all goes according to plan, the Atlas V booster should fall away after about four minutes. That leaves the rocket’s upper stage to give Starliner one final push into Earth’s orbit before it, too, separates from the capsule. Starliner should orbit Earth alone overnight, slowly lining itself up to meet the ISS the next day.

“That’s the part of this flight that, to me, is so critical: docking with station and then also, on the back end as well, going through that whole undock sequence,” Steve Stich, who manages NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, said in a briefing.

If the spaceship successfully latches onto a port on the ISS, astronauts on the station will then open its hatch and unload its cargo – science equipment and supplies. After that, the Starliner is scheduled to stay docked to the ISS to test out its systems and its endurance in space, until it returns to Earth a few days later.

The launch was originally set for Friday afternoon, but had to be delayed after a mishap on the ISS. Russia’s new module, Nauka, fired its engines unexpectedly after docking to the station on Thursday, which rotated the ISS 45 degrees. Flight controllers regained control about an hour later.

“We wanted to make sure we had some breathing room to fully assess the situation on station before adding another vehicle,” Lueders said in a briefing on Thursday.

Boeing’s investigation into the failed flight revealed further problems

boeing cst 100 starliner spaceship space capsule nasa commercial crew program ccp orbiting earth illustration 317188 33_CST_Flip_fr01_
An illustration of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spaceship orbiting Earth.

During Boeing’s test flight in 2019, the early engine fire prompted the company’s engineers to quickly review the spacecraft’s software while Starliner was orbiting Earth. In doing so, they discovered and patched another issue – not the clock error – that could have been catastrophic.

As Starliner prepares to fall back to Earth, it’s supposed to shed its service module – a cylinder containing the spaceship’s main engines. That part is meant to fall away from the crew module, which holds the astronauts.

But this second software error could have led the service module to bounce back and crash into the crew module. That could have sent the astronauts’ capsule tumbling or significantly damaged its protective heat shield, making it unsafe to plow through the atmosphere.

The discovery of this issue prompted a NASA investigation into Boeing’s coding and overall safety culture. NASA administrators at the time said the software issue was likely a symptom of larger problems at the company. But now, Stich said, “Boeing has an excellent safety culture.”

Boeing has fixed both issues and changed some of the spaceship’s communications software.

“There’s always a little bit of that trepidation in you,” Stich said. “This is spaceflight. The Atlas is a great vehicle. Starliner is a great vehicle. But we know how hard it is, and it’s a test flight as well. And I fully expect we’ll learn something on this test flight.”

Why NASA needs Boeing

Assuming Starliner can make it to the ISS and back without major issues, its next step will be to do that again with astronauts onboard – a crewed test flight. If everything goes smoothly, that flight could launch by the end of this year, Stich said.

boeing starliner space capsule lowered on cables to rocket
Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft is stacked atop an Atlas V rocket at Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on July 17, 2021.

NASA is relying on both Boeing and SpaceX to replace the government-developed Space Shuttle, which stopped flying in 2011. After that, NASA relied solely on Russian Soyuz rockets to ferry its astronauts to and from the ISS. Then SpaceX’s Crew Dragon passed the agency’s tests, flying its first astronauts to the ISS last year. SpaceX has flown two full crews since then.

NASA hopes to add Starliner to its fleet soon so that the agency is no longer reliant on just one launch system.

This story has been updated with new information. It was originally published on July 28, 2021.

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Russia has docked its new science module to the International Space Station, after 14 years of delays

nauka module spaceship with solar array wings approaches international space station
A screenshot from NASA’s livestream shows the Nauka module approaching its port on the International Space Station, July 29, 2021.

Russia has finally delivered a long-awaited science module to the International Space Station.

The new module, a 43-foot-long cylinder called Nauka (meaning “science” in Russian), approached the ISS on Thursday morning. The spaceship inched forward slowly, aligning itself exactly with the ISS port that was waiting to receive it. Its docking system met the port at 9:29 a.m. ET and locked into place, forming a seal so that cosmonauts could open the hatch and access their new facilities.

Nauka gives the Russian side of the ISS expanded science facilities, crew quarters, and a new airlock for spacewalks. It also features a new docking port for Russian spacecraft.

The module was originally scheduled to launch in 2007, but technical issues and unexpected repairs led to years of delay.

“This is a very difficult and important victory for us,” Dmitry Rogozin, director general of Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, said on Twitter after docking.

NASA broadcasted live footage of Nauka docking to the ISS on Thursday morning. Watch the video below.

The new module is not fully integrated into the ISS yet, though. Cosmonauts will need to conduct about 11 spacewalks to set up electronics on the outside of the module, according to Spaceflight Now.

Russia’s old module burned up in Earth’s atmosphere

To clear a port for Nauka, Russia’s 20-year-old Pirs docking station detached from the ISS on Saturday. Pirs first arrived at the space station in 2001, and it has served as a receiving station for cargo-carrying Progress capsules and astronaut-ferrying Soyuz spaceships.

russian progress spaceship docked to international space station
A Russian Progress cargo spaceship, docked to the Pirs docking compartment on the International Space Station’s Russian segment, June 2, 2021.

After Pirs undocked, a Progress spacecraft towed it into Earth’s atmosphere. As gravity pulled the old module down, the bulk of it burned up in the atmosphere. The parts that survived fell into the Pacific Ocean.

Nauka had mid-flight issues on its way to the ISS

proton m rocket fires engines blasts off from launchpad carrying nauka module
A Proton-M rocket carrying the Nauka module blasts off from the launchpad at Russia’s space facility in Baikonur, Kazakhstan, July 21, 2021.

Nauka, which is also known as the Multipurpose Laboratory Module (MLM), didn’t have a smooth journey to the ISS.

Shortly after launching on July 21, Nauka started malfunctioning. It didn’t complete the first engine burn that was supposed to push it into a higher orbit above Earth. The module needed to gain altitude so that gravity wouldn’t pull it into the atmosphere, where it would burn up. So Russian mission controllers instructed the module to fire its backup thrusters to push itself higher.

man in white lab coat stands in front of nauka module port opening in lab room
A specialist of the Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Centre works on preparations of the Nauka module, July 31, 2020.

Over the next few days, Nauka fired its thrusters several times to move into the right orbital path. Those “corrective maneuvers” put it on track to reach the ISS.

This post has been updated with new information. It was originally published on July 28, 2021.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Russia is set to dock a long-awaited new module to the space station on Thursday

man in white lab coat stands in front of nauka module port opening in lab room
A specialist at the Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center works on preparations of the Nauka module, July 31, 2020.

Russia is finally ready to attach a long-awaited science module to the International Space Station.

The new module, a 43-foot-long cylinder called Nauka (meaning “science” in Russian), is currently orbiting Earth and making its way towards the station. It will give the Russian side of the ISS expanded science facilities, crew quarters, and a new airlock for spacewalks. Nauka also features a new docking port for Russian spacecraft.

The module was originally scheduled to launch in 2007, but technical issues and unexpected repairs led to years of delay.

To clear a port for Nauka, Russia’s 20-year-old Pirs docking station detached from the ISS on Saturday. Pirs first arrived at the space station in 2001, and it has served as a receiving station for cargo-carrying Progress capsules and astronaut-ferrying Soyuz spaceships.

russian progress spaceship docked to international space station
A Russian Progress cargo spaceship, docked to the International Space Station’s Russian segment, June 2, 2021.

After Pirs undocked, a Progress spacecraft towed it into Earth’s atmosphere. As gravity pulled the old module down, the bulk of it burned up in the atmosphere. The parts that survived fell into the Pacific Ocean.

Now that Pirs’ old port is open, Nauka is scheduled to dock there on Thursday morning at 9:24 a.m. ET. The high-stakes maneuver must be executed perfectly: The spaceship must align exactly with the port in order to lock into place and form a seal so that cosmonauts can open the hatch and access their new facilities.

If all that is successful, the ISS cosmonauts will then need to conduct about 11 spacewalks to set up electronics on the outside of the new module, according to Spaceflight Now.

Nauka had mid-flight issues on its way to the ISS

proton m rocket fires engines blasts off from launchpad carrying nauka module
A Proton-M rocket carrying the Nauka module blasts off from the launchpad at Russia’s space facility in Baikonur, Kazakhstan, July 21, 2021.

Nauka, which is also known as the Multipurpose Laboratory Module (MLM), hasn’t had a smooth journey to the ISS.

Shortly after launching on July 21, Nauka started malfunctioning. It didn’t complete the first engine burn that was supposed to push it into a higher orbit above Earth. The module needed to gain altitude so that gravity wouldn’t pull it into the atmosphere, where it would burn up. So Russian mission controllers instructed the module to fire its backup thrusters to push itself higher.

Over the last few days, it’s fired its thrusters several times to move into the right orbital path.

nauka space station module assembled in large lab room
The Nauka module is assembled at Russia’s Baikonur Cosmodrome, April 9, 2021.

Russia’s space agency, Roscosmos, announced Wednesday morning that Nauka had successfully performed its “final corrective maneuver,” putting it on track to reach the ISS.

Watch Nauka dock to the space station live

NASA plans to broadcast live footage of Nauka docking to the ISS on Thursday morning, starting at 8:30 a.m. ET. Watch the livestream via the embed below.

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Boeing will once again try to fly its spaceship to the space station for NASA on Friday, after failing its first attempt

boeing cst 100 starliner spaceship nasa commercial crew program ccp illustration rendering launch orbit landing 4
A computer rendering of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spaceship orbiting Earth.

On Friday, Boeing’s Starliner spaceship will attempt to redeem itself after botching its last major test flight.

The company’s eventual goal is to fly astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA, the way SpaceX already does. Both companies developed their launch systems through NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, a competition that awarded funding to private companies in order to develop new astronaut-ready spacecraft.

But before carrying people, the Starliner has to complete an uncrewed test flight to and from the ISS as part of NASA’s certification process. Boeing first attempted this flight in December 2019, but it turned out that one of the spaceship’s clocks was set 11 hours ahead of schedule. That prompted the spaceship to fire its engines too vigorously, too early – a move meant to come at a later stage of the mission. That caused the spaceship to burn through 25% of its fuel, forcing Boeing to skip docking with the space station in order to save the Starliner from total failure.

Now, the company is confident that it has fixed the problems with its spaceship, so it’s time for the do-over.

“Now’s the right time. This team is ready to go, this vehicle is ready to go,” Kathy Lueders, associate administrator of NASA’s human-spaceflight directorate, said in a press briefing on Thursday.

Boeing must show NASA its spaceship can reach the space station

boeing cst 100 starliner spaceship nasa commercial crew program ccp orbital flight test oft launch pad cape canaveral launch 6NHQ201912200021_orig
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spacecraft launches from Space Launch Complex 41 on December 20, 2019, at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Starliner is set to blast off atop an Atlas V rocket at 2:53 p.m. ET on Friday – assuming thunderstorms don’t force a delay. The mission, called Orbital Flight Test 2, or OFT-2, will send the rocket and capsule roaring into the skies above NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

If all goes according to plan, the Atlas V booster should fall away after about four minutes. That would leave the rocket’s upper stage to give Starliner one final push into Earth’s orbit before it, too, separates from the capsule. Starliner should orbit Earth alone overnight, slowly lining itself up to meet the ISS the next day.

“That’s the part of this flight that, to me, is so critical: docking with station and then also, on the back end as well, going through that whole undock sequence,” Steve Stich, who manages NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, said in a briefing on Tuesday.

If the spaceship successfully latches onto a port on the ISS, astronauts on the station will then open its hatch and unload its cargo – science equipment and supplies. After that, the Starliner is scheduled to stay docked to the ISS to test out its systems and its endurance in space, until it returns to Earth on August 5.

Boeing’s investigation into the failed flight revealed further problems

boeing cst 100 starliner spaceship space capsule nasa commercial crew program ccp orbiting earth illustration 317188 33_CST_Flip_fr01_
An illustration of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner spaceship orbiting Earth.

During Boeing’s test flight in 2019, the early engine fire prompted the company’s engineers to quickly review the spacecraft’s software while Starliner was orbiting Earth. In doing so, they discovered and patched another issue – not the clock error – that could have been catastrophic.

As Starliner prepares to fall back to Earth, it’s supposed to shed its service module – a cylinder containing the spaceship’s main engines. That part is supposed to fall away from the crew module, which holds the astronauts.

But this second software error could have caused the service module to bounce back and crash into the crew module. That could have sent the astronauts’ capsule tumbling or significantly damaged its protective heat shield, making it unsafe to plow through the atmosphere.

The discovery of this issue prompted a NASA investigation into Boeing’s coding and overall safety culture. NASA administrators at the time said the software issue was likely a symptom of larger problems at the company. But now, Stich said, “Boeing has an excellent safety culture.”

As a result of NASA’s investigations, Boeing fixed both issues and changed some of the spaceship’s communications software.

“There’s always a little bit of that trepidation in you,” Stich said. “This is spaceflight. The Atlas is a great vehicle. Starliner is a great vehicle. But we know how hard it is, and it’s a test flight as well. And I fully expect we’ll learn something on this test flight.”

Why NASA needs Boeing

Assuming Starliner can make it to the ISS and back without major issues, its next step will be to do it again with astronauts onboard – a crewed test flight. If everything goes smoothly, that flight could launch by the end of this year, Stich said.

boeing starliner space capsule lowered on cables to rocket
Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft is stacked atop an Atlas V rocket at Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida on July 17, 2021.

NASA is relying on both Boeing and SpaceX to replace the government-developed Space Shuttle, which stopped flying in 2011.

After the Space Shuttles were retired, NASA relied solely on Russian Soyuz rockets to ferry its astronauts to and from the ISS. Then SpaceX’s Crew Dragon passed the agency’s tests, flying its first astronauts to the ISS last year. SpaceX has flown two full crews since then. NASA hopes to add Starliner to its fleet soon so that the agency is no longer reliant on just one launch system.

Read the original article on Business Insider