ORLANDO, Fla., Nov. 8 (UPI) — Four astronauts arrived in Florida on Sunday afternoon in anticipation of the first launch of four people in a space capsule at week’s end.
SpaceX’s Dragon space capsule, named Resilience, is expected to lift off at 7:49 p.m. Saturday to begin the Crew-1 mission from Kennedy Space Center.
The mission will be the first routine flight of the Dragon to the International Space Station under NASA’s Commercial Crew Program, agency Administrator Jim Bridenstine said.
That means Elon Musk’s SpaceX owns the capsule and the Falcon 9 rocket on which it will be carried. In previous years, NASA owned Apollo capsules and space shuttles.
“So today … we are taking another big leap in this transformation and how we do human spaceflight,” Bridenstine said Sunday after the astronauts touched down to make final preparations for their flight.
The arrival included a brief news conference on the tarmac at the space center, where strong breezes and overcast sky heralded the approach of Tropical Storm Eta.
NASA is watching the weather closely because Eta is forecast to strengthen briefly into a hurricane in the next few days, change direction and possibly head toward Florida by Friday.
The spacecraft’s commander, NASA astronaut Michael Hopkins, said the crew chose the name Resilience because of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We felt like if the name of our vehicle could give a little hope, a little inspiration, put a smile on people’s face, then that is definitely what we wanted to do, and we felt like Resilience was the name that did that,” Hopkins said.
He said the crew had been in quarantine with family for weeks, and also had fine-tuned their training.
Hopkins, 51, plans to be sworn in as the first U.S. Space Force astronaut during the mission.
He will fly with the pilot Victor Glover, 44, and mission specialists Shannon Walker and Soichi Noguchi, both 55. Noguchi is a Japanese astronaut.
Glover is the only crew member who hasn’t flown into space.
“It’s hard to put it into words really, I mean, you know, the thought of flying in here and rocketing out. It’s just surreal,” Glover said.
The previous crewed SpaceX capsule, which returned to Earth on Aug. 2, was a test flight that carried two astronauts and spent two months in orbit.
Besides that mission, astronauts have launched into space only aboard the Russian Soyuz capsule that carries two or three people from Kazakhstan since the end of the space shuttle program in 2011.
Hopkins said he talked to astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley about their experience on the Crew Dragon demonstration flight to the space station in May through August this year.
The upcoming launch will boost the number of astronauts living on the space station to seven for the first time in years. That will allow more work with onboard experiments, the astronauts said.