NASA’s next astronaut launch will delay nearly a week to let a moon mission leave Earth first.
NASA’s Crew-8 astronauts, who will launch on a SpaceX Crew Dragon, will fly to space no earlier than Feb. 28. The delay from Feb. 22 will make room for the expected launch of Intuitive Machines’ moon lander from the same launch pad at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The window for that moon mission, known as IM-1, opens Wednesday (Feb. 14).
“NASA and SpaceX will continue to assess Crew-8 readiness and may adjust the Crew-8 launch date following a successful IM-1 launch,” agency officials wrote in a statement on Feb. 13, while announcing the delay. The astronaut mission will serve as relief for Crew-7, which flew to space on Aug. 26 for an International Space Station mission expected to last six or seven months.
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Crew-8 includes NASA astronauts Matthew Dominick (commander), Michael Barratt (pilot), and Jeanette Epps (mission specialist), along with Roscosmos cosmonaut and mission specialist Alexander Grebenkin.
Both the ISS crew and the IM-1 launch are using a pad SpaceX leases at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. The moon mission has a fairly narrow launch window as the IM-1 lander needs specific landing conditions to land at the lunar south pole, which is part of why the launch date for Crew-8 may be adjusted.
NASA officials previously emphasized that IM-1 may force adjustments to the launch date, perhaps even pushing Crew-8 to March or beyond if the moon mission needs to remain on the pad a few extra weeks.
Barratt is the only veteran in the crew, having flown twice already in 2009 (ISS Expeditions 19-20) and 2011 (the space shuttle’s STS-133).
Epps was assigned to two other space missions, but is unflown; she was removed late in the training from another ISS crew that flew in 2018, and then reassigned to Crew-8 from a Boeing Starliner crewed launch following numerous mission delays.
Crew-8, as the name implies, is the eighth crewed operational mission by SpaceX that sends commercial crews to the ISS on NASA’s behalf. Starliner, the second vendor, may fly its first test crew in mid-April 2024.