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What You Need to Know about NASA’s SpaceX Crew-3 Mission

The Crew-3 astronauts in their white SpaceX spacesuits.
The astronauts of SpaceX Crew-3 pose for a portrait in their suits during a training session. From left are, ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Matthias Maurer and NASA astronauts Thomas Marshburn, Raja Chari and Kayla Barron. Chari is Commander, Marshburn is the Pilot, and Barron and Maurer are both Mission Specialists.

Editor’s Note: This feature was updated on Oct. 30 to reflect a new target launch date.

Editor’s Note: This feature was updated on Nov. 9 to reflect a new target launch date and the return of Crew-2.

NASA and SpaceX once again are gearing up to launch astronauts on an American rocket and spacecraft from American soil to the International Space Station as part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program. NASA’s SpaceX Crew-3 is the third crew rotation mission that will carry an international crew of four astronauts on a six-month science expedition to the microgravity laboratory. 

NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn, and Kayla Barron as well as ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Matthias Maurer will launch aboard a Crew Dragon spacecraft launching atop a Falcon 9 rocket on its way to the space station. The mission is scheduled to lift off no earlier than 9:03 p.m. EST Wednesday, November 10, from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. 

The crew is scheduled for a long-duration stay aboard the orbiting laboratory, spending several months conducting science and maintenance before the four astronauts return to Earth in spring 2022. 

The Crew-3 mission will fly a new Crew Dragon spacecraft and will be the first mission to fly a previously used nosecone. It is tradition the first astronauts to fly a new capsule name their spacecraft; Crew-3 chose “Endurance” as a tribute to the tenacity of the human spirit for exploration to push farther than we ever have with commercial opportunities in low-Earth orbit and preparations for missions to the Moon and Mars. The name also acknowledges the development team’s work throughout a pandemic and the people who will fly future long-duration missions on the spacecraft. 

Chari, Marshburn and Maurer were assigned to the Crew-3 mission in December 2020 and began working and training on SpaceX’s next-generation human spacecraft and for their long-duration stay aboard the space station. Barron was added as the fourth crew member in May 2021.  

The Crew 

Raja Chari is commander of the Crew Dragon spacecraft and the Crew-3 mission. Chari is responsible for all phases of flight, from launch to re-entry. He also will serve as an Expedition 66 flight engineer aboard the station. This will be the first spaceflight for Chari, who was selected as a NASA astronaut candidate in 2017. He was born in Milwaukee, but considers Cedar Falls, Iowa, his hometown. He is a colonel in the U.S. Air Force and joins the mission with extensive experience as a test pilot. He has accumulated more than 2,500 hours of flight time in his career. Chari was also selected as a member of the Artemis Team and is now eligible for assignment to a future lunar mission. 

Tom Marshburn is the pilot of the Crew Dragon spacecraft and second-in-command for the mission. He is responsible for spacecraft systems and performance. Once aboard station, he will serve as an Expedition 66 flight engineer,and is scheduled to assume command of station for Expedition 67. Marshburn is a Statesville, North Carolina, native who became an astronaut in 2004. Prior to serving in the astronaut corps, the medical doctor served as flight surgeon at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston and later became medical operations lead for the International Space Station. The Crew-3 mission will be his third visit to the space station on three different spacecraft and his second long-duration mission. Marshburn previously served as a crew member of STS-127 in 2009 flying aboard NASA’s Space Shuttle Endeavour, and Expedition 34/35, which concluded in 2013, using a Russian Soyuz spacecraft. 

Kayla Barron is a mission specialist for Crew-3. As a mission specialist, she will work closely with the commander and pilot to monitor the spacecraft during the dynamic launch and re-entry phases of flight. Once aboard the station, she will become a flight engineer for Expedition 66. Barron was born in Pocatello, Idaho, but considers Richland, Washington, her hometown. She earned a bachelor’s degree in systems engineering from the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, in 2010, and a master’s degree in nuclear engineering from the University of Cambridge, in England, in 2011, as a Gates Cambridge Scholar. Lt. Cmdr. Barron earned her submarine warfare officer qualification and deployed three times while serving aboard the USS Maine. At the time of her selection as an astronaut candidate in 2017, she was serving as the flag aide to the superintendent of the U.S. Naval Academy. Crew-3 will be Barron’s first spaceflight. 

Matthias Maurer also will  be a mission specialist for Crew-3, working with the commander and pilot to monitor the spacecraft during the dynamic launch and re-entry phases of flight. He also will become a long-duration crew member aboard the space station. Like Chari and Barron, he will be making his first trip to space with the Crew-3 mission. Maurer comes from Sankt Wendel, in the German state of Saarland. Before becoming an astronaut, Maurer held a number of engineering and research roles, both in a university setting and at ESA. In 2016, Maurer spent 16 days on an undersea mission as part of a NASA’s Extreme Environment Mission Operations, or NEEMO, space analog. 

Mission Overview 

Lifting off from Launch Pad 39A on a Falcon 9 rocket, Crew Dragon will accelerate its four passengers to approximately 17,500 mph and put it on an intercept course with the International Space Station. The Falcon 9 first stage that will be used to launch this mission flew previously on SpaceX’s 22nd commercial resupply mission to the station in June 2021.  

Once in orbit, the crew and SpaceX mission control will monitor a series of automatic maneuvers that will guide the Crew-3 astronauts to their new home in orbit at the forward end of the station’s Harmony module. After a 22-hour journey, Crew Dragon will be in position to rendezvous and dock with the space station at 7:10 p.m. November 11. The spacecraft is designed to dock autonomously with the ability for astronauts aboard the spacecraft to take control and pilot manually, if necessary. 

After successfully docking, the astronauts of Crew-3 will be welcomed to station by the three-member crew of Expedition 66. The astronauts of NASA’s SpaceX Crew-2 undocked from the space station and safely splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Florida ahead of Crew-3’s arrival. 

The Crew-3 astronauts will spend approximately six months aboard the International Space Station conducting new and exciting scientific research in areas such as materials science, health technologies, and plant science to prepare for human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit and benefit life on Earth. 

Fiber Optic Production-2 (FOP-2) builds on previous work to manufacture commercial optical fibers in microgravity using a blend of elements called ZBLAN. Earlier studies suggest that ZBLAN optical fibers produced in microgravity exhibit qualities superior to those of fibers produced on Earth. Results from FOP-2 could help further verify these studies and aid in the development of manufacturing processes of high value optical fiber aboard the space station for commercial use. 

The rHEALTH ONE Microgravity Demonstration focuses on the functionality and performance of this modified commercial off-the-shelf device’s underlying technology to complete flow cytometry of selected control solutions. Flow cytometry can provide quick and accurate measurements of biological indicators related to disease, infection, or environmental exposure while in microgravity. Successful in-orbit testing of the device would be an important step toward providing this capability for deep-space exploration missions. 

The eXposed Root On-Orbit Test System (XROOTS) investigation uses hydroponic and aeroponic techniques to grow plants without soil or other growth media. Plants are monitored through their entire life cycle. Results could identify suitable methods to produce crops on a larger scale for future space missions. 

Approximately 70% of astronauts experience eye changes during long-duration space missions. The changes are collectively referred to as Spaceflight Associated Neuro-ocular Syndrome (SANS). The European Retinal Diagnostics experiment will use a commercially available ophthalmology lens, adapted for use with a tablet in space, to capture images of astronauts’ retinas. The images and videos collected will be used to test and train AI models that could automatically detect retinal changes in astronauts in the future, and provide the ability to support patients and clinicians on Earth in remote or developing regions.

During their stay aboard the orbiting laboratory, astronauts of Crew-3 will see cargo spacecraft including the SpaceX cargo Dragon in December and the Northrop Grumman Cygnus in early 2022. They will also welcome two different private crews to the station, including Japanese tourists aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft at the end of 2021, and the Axiom Mission 1 crew, the first private astronaut mission to the International Space Station, scheduled to launch no earlier than February 21, 2022. The Crew-3 astronauts are scheduled to conduct a series of spacewalks to outfit the station’s power system in preparation for new solar arrays that will increase the station’s total available power supply. 

At the conclusion of the mission, Crew Dragon will autonomously undock with the four astronauts aboard, depart the space station and re-enter Earth’s atmosphere. After splashdown just off Florida’s coast, a SpaceX recovery vessel will pick up the crew and bring them back to shore to board a plane for return to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. 

The Crew-3 mission continues NASA’s efforts to restore and maintain American leadership in human spaceflight. Regular, long-duration commercial crew rotation missions enable NASA to continue the important research and technology investigations taking place aboard the station. Such research benefits people on Earth and lays the groundwork for future exploration of the Moon and Mars starting with the agency’s Artemis missions, which includes landing the first woman and person of color on the lunar surface. 

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