Crew-8 Up and Away

Crew-8 Up and Away

Weather finally cooperated for the NASA/SpaceX Crew-8 to lift off late Sunday evening on their way to the International Space Station. Docking is expected about 3:00 am on Tuesday.

Three NASA astronauts and one Russian cosmonaut finally got their chance to head to the ISS at 10:53 pm ET Sunday night. The launch was postponed almost 48 hours from 12:04 am ET Friday to 11:16 pm ET Saturday, and then again to Sunday, because of poor weather.

Crew-8 (L-R): Alexander Grebenkin (Roscosmos), Michael Barratt (NASA), Matthew Dominick (NASA), and Jeanette Epps (NASA). Photo credit: NASA

Launches to the ISS go up along the East Coast and across the Atlantic towards Ireland. If anything goes awry, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon can abort anywhere along that path, so the weather has to be acceptable not only at Kennedy Space Center for launch, but over that entire area for the next 8 minutes or so until the spacecraft is in orbit.

This time the weather was fine.

Crew Dragon capsules are reusable and this is Endeavour’s fifth flight. For now, the spacecraft are certified for only five flights, but NASA and SpaceX are looking at extending certification for perhaps as many as 15 flights, though that is still under review.

SpaceX now has launched 50 people into orbit on Crew Dragons either for NASA or on private spaceflights since their first human spaceflight in 2020.

In the last minutes of tonight’s countdown, engineers studying close-out photos of Endeavour’s hatch noticed a small crack, but SpaceX and NASA determined it was not cause to delay the launch. It would have been a problem on reentry, not ascent, but NASA and SpaceX engineers determined that heating would actually make the crack seal itself.

During a post-launch news conference at 12:15 am ET this morning (Monday), NASA commercial crew program manager Steve Stich and SpaceX Director of Dragon Mission Management Sarah Walker said their teams independently came to the same conclusion. Stich said it was a thermal seal on the leeward side of the capsule that does not experience the highest heating and in any case the thermal protection material “generally will heat up during reentry and seal any kind of anomaly.” Walker said “our experts back in Hawthorne and the NASA experts back in Houston were immediately on the phone and on the nets working together” and “we corroborated one another and agreed we were go for launch.”

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