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SpaceX tries for Crew-8 liftoff again Sunday night after Saturday weather woes

Chances are 75 percent for favorable conditions for trip to International Space Station

By Richard Tribou, Orlando Sentinel
Published: March 3, 2024, 6:17pm

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER — SpaceX is set to hit a milestone in human spaceflight as it aims to bring up another four passengers to the International Space Station, but it had to wait another day when weather forced a scrub on Saturday night.

The Crew-8 mission with three NASA astronauts and one Roscosmos cosmonaut will be riding in the Crew Dragon Endeavour when it launches atop a Falcon 9 rocket from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Pad 39-A now targeting liftoff at 10:53 p.m. Sunday, with a backup at 10:31 p.m. Monday.

Weather chances are 75 percent for favorable conditions, according to an update Sunday from Space Launch Delta 45’s weather squadron.

“Current trends over the last hour appears to be more favorable,” SpaceX mission control said during its situational awareness brief with four hours before launch.

Space Launch Delta 45 had given a Saturday night attempt only a 40 percent chance for good conditions, and with less than four hours before the planned Saturday launch, with the astronauts suited up and about to walk out for their trip out to the launch pad, teams declared they were standing down from the attempt because of poor launch corridor conditions.

The ascent corridor is the path Crew Dragon takes, and weather has to be good up the Eastern Seaboard and over the Atlantic in the event the spacecraft would have to make an emergency landing, and the waves were just too high for the Saturday night attempt. NASA and SpaceX had already delayed the launch from Friday because of bad weather on the ascent corridor.

NASA began airing live coverage about four and a half hours ahead of launch, showing the astronauts repeating their suit-up activities at the Neil Armstrong Operations & Checkout Building, where their families and NASA officials await to say goodbye before they climb into the fleet of black Teslas, with license plates that read “YAYSP8C,” that will take them to the launch pad. The Saturday scrub happened moments before the walkout.

The first-stage booster is flying for the first time and will attempt a recovery landing at nearby Cape Canaveral Space Force Station’s Landing Zone 1, which means one or more sonic booms might be heard in parts of Central Florida.

Once they launch, they will mark 50 humans flown to space among SpaceX’s four Crew Dragon spacecraft, with only one repeat flyer among the 50. Endeavour was the first to ferry passengers when it launched on the Demo-2 mission in May 2020 carrying up astronauts Bob Behken and Doug Hurley.

This marks its fifth flight.

“It’s our fleet leader,” said NASA Commercial Crew Program manager Steve Stich. “So we’ve taken a lot of extra time … to go through all of the systems and in particular the prompt system is to make sure we’re really ready to go fly.”

Flying up for NASA are commander Matthew Dominick, pilot Michael Barratt and mission specialist Jeanette Epps, along with Russia’s mission specialist Alexander Grebenkin. They are set to join Expedition 70 on board the ISS, docking on Sunday afternoon for about a six-month stay during which they will work on more than 200 science and technology experiments.

They will relieve the four members of Crew-7 who have been on the station since August. One of its crew took to X to joke about the delays.

“More like Crew-L8. When are you getting here already?” posted the European Space Agency’s Andreas Mogensen.

“We are some of the lucky few right now who BOTH know where you sleep AND can get to you shortly …,” replied Crew 8’s Dominick.

All but Barratt, who flew on both a Soyuz mission in 2009 and the last Space Shuttle Discovery mission in 2011, are spaceflight rookies.

“I can’t wait to fly this new spaceship, and I can’t wait to fly with this crew,” Barratt said when the quartet arrived at Kennedy Space Center last Sunday, noting it had been 13 years and one day since he flew on Discovery’s STS-133.

“Two more flights, and our shuttle program was done. Most of us were hoping that there would be an overlap, not a big gap. But we did have a gap, and when we came down here to watch Discovery be carted away from here, Kennedy Space Center was very quiet,” he said about when the shuttle was taken away to be put on display at the Smithsonian.

The space shuttle program ran from 1981 to 2011, flying 135 missions carrying 355 crew, with many making multiple flights.

“It was so empty compared to what we were all used to for all this time,” he said. “We were all pretty sure that KSC was going to come back. But we had no idea how much. I would say KSC has come back with a vengeance.”

Now SpaceX is making its 13th Crew Dragon flight, the ninth flight for NASA as part of the Commercial Crew Program. The other four human spaceflights have been private missions for Axiom Space for short visits to the ISS plus the orbital flight Inspiration4 for billionaire Jared Isaacman.

Only former astronaut and now Axiom Space employee Michael Lopez-Alegria, who was on this year’s first human spaceflight on the Ax-3 mission that launched in January, has made the Dragon flight twice among the 50.

SpaceX has three more Dragon flights planned this year, including Crew-9 as early as August and the fourth Axiom Space mission as early as October, plus another flight for Isaacman on the Polaris Dawn mission that could fly this summer.

Meanwhile, the other company in the Commercial Crew Program, Boeing, is finally set to catch up to SpaceX with its first crewed test flight launching as soon as April 22 from Cape Canaveral. NASA’s goal was to have two active spaceflight providers to guarantee access to the ISS.

The five Dragon flights plus Starliner means 22 astronauts could make it to space from the U.S. this year, the most since 2009 during a busy year of the space shuttle program.

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“It almost seems routine to the uneducated eye that SpaceX is putting them up one after another,” Nelson said last week. “You never want to get to the frame of mind that it is so routine that it’s like getting in your car and taking a Sunday afternoon drive.”