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Astronauts on Their Way: SpaceX Launches Crew-8 Mission to Space Station

The SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket lifted off with the four astronauts of NASA’s Crew 8 mission to the International Space Station tonight (March 3). They’ll spend a six-month stay on the station, conducting more than 200 scientific experiments and technology demonstrations to assist civilization in low Earth orbit and prepare for human exploration into deep space.

The live stream of the launch, from NASA TV, began at 6:45 p.m. EST (2:45 GMT) with commentary from NASA astronauts and SpaceX representatives. The mission’s four crew members are all veteran fliers. They include veteran NASA astronaut Raja Chari, who is making his third flight to the station; ISS Expedition 56/57 commander Thomas Marshburn, who has also flown three times; and pilot Michael Barratt, who flew aboard Soyuz and the Space Shuttle Discovery in 2009 and 2011.

Once they reach the station, they will join their Soyuz crewmates — European Space Agency cosmonaut Andreas Mogensen, Japanese flier Satoshi Furukawa, and Russian cosmonaut Konstantin Borisov, who were launched to the station last August. The Crew-8 fliers will conduct a five-day handover with the current crew before heading home on March 11.

Before the rocket reached its proper orbit, it performed two rapid engine firings to slow down and deploy the SES-18 and SES-19 twin satellites. The first of those satellites was expected to drop into Geosynchronous Transfer Orbit (GTO) 32 minutes after launch, followed by the other at 37 minutes.

During the final moments of its climb to GTO, the rocket performed “Max Q” – the moment mechanical stress on the booster reaches its peak. About two minutes later, the Falcon’s first stage separated from the upper section of its payload. About five minutes later, the first stage returned to Earth at Cape Canaveral, acing the company’s 204th consecutive booster landing.

The second stage fired a series of thrusters to reach its targeted GTO orbit, and the separating process was completed 40 minutes after liftoff. The separating sequence was more dramatic than usual, as the upper stage’s solar arrays and communications antennas were deployed. Then, the second stage used its Merlin 1D+ vacuum engines to perform a pair of burns to enter reentry and land on an uncrewed drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean.

The Dragon spacecraft and its payload are headed to the station, with docking set for 2:05 p.m. EST (1905 GMT). After the astronauts finish their work on the station, they will undock and head back to Dragon. Recovery teams will assist them from the capsule one at a time. Once the Dragon lands, the astronauts will spend about 16 hours in the vehicle before their scheduled splashdown in the Gulf of Mexico. It’s the fourth and final attempt to land in the region this month, as rough seas have plagued the area since January. The next backup attempt is on Sunday.

Amelia Vanced
Amelia Vanced
Renowned astrophysicist Amelia Vance is passionate about unlocking the mysteries of the cosmos and is dedicated to sharing her knowledge with the public. Her engaging writing style brings the wonders of space exploration to life, inspiring readers of all ages to look up at the stars with a sense of wonder.

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