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SpaceX's Crew-8: Everything you need to know

The launch is currently scheduled for March 1

On March 1, NASA’s Crew-8 mission will launch with a new group of astronauts headed to the International Space Station. Here’s everything you might want to know about this mission.

The launch is currently scheduled for 12:04 am EST, with a backup launch window on the same day, March 1, at 11:41 pm EST. 

Credit: SpaceX

Here’s the weather forecast for launch, with a 90 percent chance of good weather. But it’s important to note that at a briefing today, Commercial Crew Program Manager Steve Stitch flagged some weather concerns. 

While the launch weather looks very good at the pad in Florida, the weather forecast at the launch abort zones isn’t as good. It’s always harder to launch a crewed flight than one without astronauts on board because you have to have good weather at all the possible launch abort zones. In case something goes wrong during launch or ascent through the atmosphere, the crew needs to have the option to be able to abort and land safely, and that requires good weather. Over the next day or two we’ll see if the weather becomes a serious issue and they have to delay launch.

The launch vehicle is SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, lifting off from Pad 39A at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, which is the historic Apollo launch pad, as well as where all the final Space Shuttle missions lifted off from. SpaceX signed a 20-year lease on the launch pad in 2014.

SpaceX rolled the launch vehicle out to 39A on Tuesday morning.

Credit: SpaceX

The crew will be riding in SpaceX’s Crew Dragon. This particular capsule is called Endeavour, and it will be the fifth flight for this spacecraft. It flew Demo-2, the first SpaceX crewed flight, Crew-2, Ax-1, and Crew-6. NASA has certified Crew Dragon capsules for five flights, which would usually mean it would be time to retire Endeavour after it splashes down in six or so months. But NASA has stated that it’s working with SpaceX to certify the capsules for up to 15 flights, so this likely won’t be the last we see of Endeavour. 

Credit: SpaceX

If you want to watch the liftoff, NASA coverage will start at approximately 8 PM on February 29 on NASA TV. Docking with the International Space Station will take place on March 2, at approximately 7 AM ET.

Meet the crew

The crew consists of commander Matthew Dominick, pilot Michael Barratt, Mission Specialist Jeanette Epps, and Roscosmos cosmonaut Alexander Grebenkin, who is also a mission specialist.  Aboard Space Station, the Crew-7 astronauts will be rotating out and will depart the ISS aboard their Crew Dragon spacecraft about a week after Crew-8 arrives.

Credit: SpaceX

As of Sunday, SpaceX and NASA were still working through some last minute technical issues to clear the spacecraft for launch. There is apparently some discoloration on the Crew-7 capsule, which is currently docked with the International Space Station. They think it’s from tape, and they just want to make sure it hasn’t affected the spacecraft’s ability to withstand the heat of re-entry. Additionally they’re still confirming that some panels on the Crew-8 capsule are fastened properly, but these issues should be resolved in time for the spacecraft to launch on March 1.

Credit: NASA

One interesting note about Crew-8: This will be Jeanette Epps’s first flight, you remember her name because she was pulled off a Soyuz flight in 2018 without an explanation. It was a little strange because this stuff does happen, but it’s usually because of injury, family issues, or illness. We didn’t get any explanation for Epps’s reassignment, and we still don’t know why she got pulled from that flight. Even weirder, in an interview she stated that she had no idea why she was reassigned. But now, Jeanette Epps is finally going to space. She’s a rookie, along with Alexander Grebenkin and Matthew Dominick. 

Michael Barrett is a spaceflight veteran who flew aboard a Soyuz in 2009 and on STS-133, the last flight of Space Shuttle Discovery, in 2011. He’s logged 212 days in space.

The astronauts will stay on the International Space Station for approximately six months. They’ll be working on some interesting science experiments, including continuing work on a project from the National Stem Cell Foundation to study the mechanisms behind neuroinflammation which contributes to diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and primary progressive multiple sclerosis.

They’ll also be studying the growth of heart muscle cells, as they work towards a better model for cardiac disease progression. The hope is this will help develop better treatments for heart disease.

SpaceX, Commercial Crew, and what happened to Boeing???

SpaceX has become basically synonymous with flights to the International Space Station, as they are the only U.S. launch provider capable of ferrying astronauts to and from Space Station. (We do still seat swap with Russia on their Soyuz capsules, which is why there’s a cosmonaut on this Crew Dragon flight. NASA astronaut Tracy Dyson is assigned to fly on Soyuz 25, which is currently scheduled to launch from Baikonur Cosmodrome on March 21, 2024.)

To be clear, SpaceX isn’t supposed to be solo on this. In 2014, NASA awarded both Boeing and SpaceX contracts for ferrying companies to and from Space Station. SpaceX completed its first crewed demonstration mission with astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley on board in 2020, and since then has completed seven crewed missions for NASA (hence the name of this mission, Crew-8).

Boeing, meanwhile, still hasn’t had a crewed flight. Their second uncrewed flight last year to Space Station was successful, but the parachute system of the capsule had a couple of major issues that needed to be fix. It took almost a year, but the first crewed test flight of Boeing’s Starliner appears to be on track for April.

NASA originally contracted with SpaceX for nine crewed flights, and Crew-9 is scheduled for no earlier than August. But in 2022, NASA awarded SpaceX an additional contract valued at around $1.4 billion for five additional Crew Dragon missions, likely because Boeing is just so delayed. These additional missions brought SpaceX’s commercial crew contract total to around $4.9 billion.