NASA postpones its SpaceX launch due to an undisclosed ‘medical issue’ with one of the astronauts – the first delay of its kind since the mission commander of Space Shuttle Atlantis fell ill in 1990

  • NASA has been forced to postpone its latest SpaceX launch for a second time
  • The delay is due to an undisclosed ‘medical issue’ with one of the astronauts
  • US space agency said it was ‘not a medical emergency and not related to Covid’
  • It is the first delay of its kind since a space shuttle commander fell ill in 1990
  • Crew Dragon launch is now set for 23:36 ET on Saturday (03:36 GMT Sunday)

NASA has been forced to postpone its latest SpaceX launch for the second time in a week, this time because of an undisclosed ‘medical issue’ with one of the astronauts.

It is the first delay of its kind since the mission commander of Space Shuttle Atlantis fell ill in 1990.

The US space agency said the issue was ‘not a medical emergency and not related to Covid-19’ but declined to elaborate on the nature of the problem or say which astronaut was involved.

The launch to the International Space Station (ISS), which was originally set for Sunday but then postponed until this Wednesday because of unsuitable weather conditions, has now been rescheduled for Saturday night (November 6), NASA said. 

The last time a scheduled launch was delayed over a medical issue involving the crew was 30 years ago, when astronaut John Creighton developed a sore throat and head congestion ahead of a space shuttle flight and the countdown had to be halted for three days until he was cleared to fly.

NASA has postponed its latest SpaceX launch due to an undisclosed ‘medical issue’ with one of the astronauts. It has not revealed which one but, from left, they are European Space Agency astronaut Matthias Maurer and NASA astronauts Tom Marshburn, Raja Chari and Kayla Barron

MEET SPACEX CREW-3 

Spacecraft commander

Raja Jon Vurputoor “Grinder” Chari (born June 24, 1977) is an American test pilot and NASA astronaut making his first trip to space.

Pilot 

Thomas Henry “Tom” Marshburn (born August 29, 1960)  is a doctor and veteran NASA astronaut taking his third trip to the ISS.

Mission Specialist 1 

Matthias Josef Maurer (born 18 March 1970) is a German-born European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut and materials scientist on his first trip. 

Mission Specialist 2 

Kayla Jane Barron (born September 19, 1987) is an American submarine warfare officer, engineer and NASA astronaut on her first ISS visit. 

The SpaceX-built Crew Dragon capsule due to fly this weekend is now set for lift-off atop a Falcon 9 rocket at 23:36 ET on Saturday (03:36 GMT Sunday) from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. 

If all goes smoothly, the three US astronauts and their European Space Agency (ESA) crewmate will arrive 22 hours later and dock with the space station 250 miles (400 km) above the Earth to begin a six-month science mission aboard the orbiting laboratory.

In the meantime the four crew members will remain under routine quarantine at the Cape as they continue launch preparations.

Joining the mission’s three NASA astronauts — flight commander Raja Chari, 44, mission pilot Tom Marshburn, 61, and mission specialist Kayla Barron, 34 — is German astronaut Matthias Maurer, 51, an ESA mission specialist.

Chari, a US Air Force combat jet and test pilot, Barron, a US Navy submarine officer and nuclear engineer, and Maurer, a materials science engineer, are all making their debut spaceflights aboard the Dragon vehicle, dubbed Endurance.

The name is ‘a tribute to the tenacity of the human spirit, as we push humans and machines farther than we ever have,’ said Chari, who will become only the second rookie to command a spaceship. 

Marshburn, a physician and former NASA flight surgeon, is the most experienced astronaut of the crew, having logged two previous spaceflights and four spacewalks.

Saturday’s liftoff, if successful, would count as the fifth human spaceflight SpaceX has achieved to date, following its inaugural launch in September of a space tourism service that sent the first ever all-civilian crew into orbit.

The latest mission would mark the fourth crew NASA has flown to the space station with SpaceX in 17 months, building on a public-private partnership with the rocket company formed in 2002 by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk. 

The four astronauts were originally scheduled to launch on October 31 but this was delayed because of ‘a large storm system meandering across the Ohio Valley and through northeastern United States’, which NASA said was pushing winds and waves along the Atlantic Ocean within the flight path of the rocket.   

The four astronauts were scheduled to launch on October 31 in a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, atop a Falcon 9 rocket, but this will now not go ahead until November 6, scheduled to leave the Kennedy Space Center at 23:36 ET on Saturday (03:36 GMT Sunday)

The Crew-3 astronauts will conduct spacewalks to complete the upgrade of the station’s solar panels and will be present for two tourism missions

For crew launches, SpaceX requires good weather all the way up the Eastern Seaboard and across the North Atlantic to Ireland, in case something goes wrong and the capsule has to make an emergency splashdown. 

The Crew-3 astronauts, as they are known by SpaceX, are scheduled for a long-duration science mission aboard the orbiting laboratory, living and working as part of what is expected to be a seven-member crew for the next six months.

Scientific highlights of the mission include an experiment to grow plants in space without soil or other growth media.

Another will see them build optical fibres in microgravity, which prior research has suggested will be superior in quality to those made on Earth.

If this proves to be correct, it could one day result in a new orbital industry of fibre optic cables being produced in orbit and returned to the planet. 

In a blog post NASA said the first delay was the result of ‘a large storm system meandering across the Ohio Valley and through northeastern United States’ pushing winds and waves along the Atlantic within the flight path of the rocket. Now there has been a second delay

The Crew-3 astronauts will also conduct spacewalks to complete the upgrade of the station’s solar panels and will be present for two tourism missions. 

This includes Japanese visitors aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft at the end of the year and the Space-X Axiom crew, set for launch in February 2022.

When they arrive at the ISS there will be a short handover, before the previous group of astronauts, taken to the station by SpaceX, return to the Earth. 

Crew-2 NASA astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Megan McArthur, JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) astronaut Akihiko Hoshide, and ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet are currently targeting return in early November.

During the handover period there will briefly be 11 people on the space station at the same time.

Crew-3 astronauts are set to return in late April 2022, shortly after the SpaceX-operated Crew-4 launch to the station.

SPACEX CREW DRAGON CAPSULE MEASURES 20FT AND CAN CARRY 7 ASTRONAUTS AT A TIME

The March 2 test, the first launch of U.S. astronauts from U.S. soil in eight years, will inform the system design and operations (Artist’s impression)

The capsule measures about 20 feet tall by 12 feet in diameter, and will carry up to 7 astronauts at a time. 

The Crew Dragon features an advanced emergency escape system (which was tested earlier this year) to swiftly carry astronauts to safety if something were to go wrong, experiencing about the same G-forces as a ride at Disneyland. 

It also has an Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS) that provides a comfortable and safe environment for crew members. 

Crew Dragon’s displays will provide real-time information on the state of the spacecraft’s capabilities, showing everything from Dragon’s position in space, to possible destinations, to the environment on board.  

Those CRS-2 Dragon missions will use ‘propulsive’ landings, where the capsule lands on a landing pad using its SuperDraco thrusters rather than splashing down in the ocean. 

That will allow NASA faster access to the cargo returned by those spacecraft, and also build up experience for propulsive landings of crewed Dragon spacecraft.

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