The astronauts set to launch on SpaceX’s first operational crewed mission for NASA are poised to make history — both as a crew of four and as individuals.
NASA astronauts Michael Hopkins, Victor Glover and Shannon Walker, together with Soichi Noguchi of JAXA (the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency), will lift off aboard a SpaceX Dragon capsule named “Resilience” for a six-month stay on the International Space Station. They are scheduled to launch from Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Sunday (Nov. 15) at 7:27 p.m. EST (0027 GMT on Nov. 16).
They will be the second group of astronauts to fly on SpaceX’s Dragon, but as the first mission, Demo-2, was a test flight, Hopkins, Glover, Walker and Noguchi have been designated “Crew-1.”
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(Image credit: Soichi Noguci/JAXA/NASA)
Tune in to Space.com for live launch coverage of the SpaceX Crew-1 mission. The NASA webcast begins at 3:15 p.m. EST (1915 GMT).
“We always refer to this program as the NASA crew program here, and so these missions are the NASA crew missions. Since this is the first operational mission, it is the Crew-1,” said Benji Reed, senior director of human spaceflight programs at SpaceX. “I think it [the designation] says it all.”
The Crew-1 mission will achieve NASA and its commercial partners’ goal to return regular crew rotation flights to the United States since the end of the space shuttle program in 2011. As a commercial endeavor — SpaceX, rather than NASA, both owns and operates the Dragon and its rocket, the Falcon 9 — the Crew-1 mission will set several firsts for the U.S. space agency.
“This is the first time we go with a crew of four to the International Space Station on a commercial crew vehicle,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said on Friday (Nov. 13). “It is the first time we go with one of our international partners, Japan, and we are so very grateful for the amazing partnership that we have with Japan.”
“And it is the first time we go as a commercial vehicle with humans into orbit licensed by the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration],” said Bridenstine. “There are a lot of firsts on this flight and a lot of amazing discoveries that are going to happen by these four amazing astronauts over the next six months.”
All for 1 …
Each of the Crew-1 astronauts will add their own firsts to the historic mission.
Hopkins is the first astronaut to command a four-person crew aboard a capsule. Previous complements on blunt-body spaceships have been limited to one, two or three people. One of the objectives of the Crew-1 mission is for the astronauts to figure out how best to operate within the confined space of the Dragon.
“That’s one of the interesting parts about this particular mission,” Hopkins said at his crew’s pre-launch press conference. “We’re going to be figuring out some of that as we go because we’ll be the first crew on it with the four of us, a full crew.”
Hopkins will also be the first NASA astronaut to serve in the U.S. Space Force. Originally commissioned in the Air Force in 1992, Col. Hopkins is expected to be sworn into the Space Force while aboard the space station.
“NASA has had a long relationship with the DoD [Department of Defense] and so this is just going to be a continuation of that relationship, as we have added a new military service to the ranks,” said Hopkins. “I feel very honored to have that opportunity, to do that transition while I am up on orbit.”
For Glover, who will be the pilot aboard Resilience, Crew-1 will mark a personal first — his first time into space. A NASA astronaut since 2013, Glover is the only member of the crew who has not launched before.
“It is hard to put into words, I am just excited to go into space,” said Glover. “And to be a part of this crew, we have an amazing group [and] we have an amazing spacecraft.”
Glover will also be the first Black astronaut to launch since the shuttle program ended and the first Black astronaut to serve on a long-duration expedition crew since the International Space Station was first crewed in November 2000. Since astronauts and cosmonauts first took up a continuous residency 20 years ago, there have been 126 people who have lived on the station, but none of them have been Black.
“It is bittersweet and I can’t tell you why it has taken us this long,” Glover said. “I hope to go up there and do my job to the best of my ability. I would love to come back and tell you about it afterward.”
… one for all
In addition to being the first NASA astronaut to fill one of the mission specialist seats on a SpaceX Dragon, Walker is also the first woman to fly on a commercial crew spacecraft for the U.S. space agency.
She is also continuing a trend among Dragon crew members — astronauts who are married to other astronauts. Both Demo-2 astronauts, Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, were married to other space explorers, NASA astronauts Megan McArthur and Karen Nyberg, respectively, and McArthur is assigned to fly on Crew-2.
Walker is wedded to Andrew Thomas, a veteran of four spaceflights who last flew on a crew with Noguchi in 2005.
“So I had [heard] all the stories about Soichi and now I have the privilege of flying with Soichi this time. So I’m very grateful,” said Walker.
As Bridenstine noted, Noguchi is the first international astronaut to fly on a U.S. commercial spacecraft. Noguchi’s flight on the Dragon will set another first, too.
Noguchi will be the first non-American and only the third person in history to launch from Earth on three different type of spacecraft. Until Crew-1, only two NASA astronauts had accomplished the feat: Walter “Wally” Schirra, who flew on Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions, and John Young, who launched on Gemini, Apollo and space shuttle missions.
Noguchi first flew into orbit on NASA’s space shuttle and then made his first visit to the space station on a Russian Soyuz spacecraft.
“It is quite the honor to have the same experience like John Young did,” Noguchi said. “It is kind of interesting that in Japan we don’t have our own space vehicles, but based on international cooperation I will be able to achieve this big milestone.”
“Of course, there are a lot more people behind me, so this is just the beginning.”
You can watch SpaceX’s Crew-1 launch for NASA live here at Space.com on Sunday beginning at 3:15 p.m. EST (1915 GMT).