NASA plans to launch a crew of four astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) on Monday, February 27th, from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center. You’ll have to get up early to see it, though, as the launch of the SpaceX Dragon Crew Module Endeavour, riding atop a Falcon 9 booster rocket, is currently set for 1:45 AM EST.
The Falcon 9 booster rocket, which is reusable, will return to earth and land on a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean several minutes after the launch and separation from the Crew Module. This will be the first flight for this particular booster. Some of the other boosters in Space X’s fleet have seen use more than fifteen times.
Dubbed “Crew-6”, the mission will send NASA astronauts Stephen Bowen and Warren “Woody” Hoburg to the International Space Station for approximately six months. Also on board will be UAE (United Arab Emirates) astronaut Sultan Alneyada and Roscosmos (Russian Federation) cosmonaut Andrey Fedyaev. Reaching a speed of about 17,500 mph, the Endeavour will dock with the ISS about 23 hours after launch. There they will be welcomed by the seven members who make up the current crew of the ISS. Shortly after arrival, four of those existing crewmembers, who have been on the ISS since October 5th, will board the same Dragon Crew Module for the fiery ride back to earth.
While onboard the ISS, Crew-6 will conduct new scientific experiments that will prepare humans for longer-term flights beyond earth orbit, as well as experiments that will benefit life on earth. In all, over 200 science experiments and technology demonstrations are scheduled for this mission, according to NASA. Experiments will include studies of how particular materials burn in microgravity as well as research on heart, brain, and cartilage functions.
One of the milestones of this mission is scheduled to occur sometime in April when the first manned Boeing Starliner arrives at the station. The Starliner is Boeing’s entry into the field of crewed modules. While similar to SpaceX’s Dragon capsule in many ways, the Starliner can seat up to seven astronauts or a mix of astronauts and cargo, while the Dragon only seats four. Another major difference is the Starliner is designed to land on land, while the Dragon splashes down in the ocean. Currently, the Dragon is the only human-rated U.S. orbital spacecraft.
Weather permitting, you should easily be able to see what promises to be a spectacular night launch, even from the west coast of Florida. From the Hernando County area, just look due east at launch time for a bright trail of fire rising into the sky.
A live launch broadcast will begin on NASA TV at 10:30 p.m. EST Sunday, Feb. 26, and be carried on the agencies’ website as well as NASA’s App, YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook, among other sites.