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Watch SpaceX launch its next astronaut crew for NASA on Wednesday, after a week of delays

Morgan McFall-Johnsen   

Watch SpaceX launch its next astronaut crew for NASA on Wednesday, after a week of delays

SpaceX plans to send a rocket streaking above the Florida skies on Wednesday night. Onboard its Crew Dragon spaceship will be the fourth astronaut crew the company will have launched for NASA.

SpaceX, founded by Elon Musk, now regularly shuttles NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station (ISS) for six-month shifts. The crews the company has flown so far have also included astronauts from the space agencies of Europe and Japan.

The upcoming mission, called Crew-3, includes NASA astronauts Tom Marshburn, Raja Chari, and Kayla Barron, as well as European Space Agency (ESA) astronaut Matthias Maurer.

"It's hard to express adequately how excited we are as a crew. We're definitely feeling ready to launch," Barron, who will be flying to space for the first time, said in a press conference in early October.

The crew was originally supposed to lift off in the dark hours before dawn on Halloween, but NASA and SpaceX delayed the launch due to high winds and waves forecast along the spaceship's flight path over the Atlantic Ocean. NASA requires calm weather at several emergency splashdown locations in the ocean.

Then the flight was delayed further due to a "minor medical issue" involving one of the astronauts. NASA has not disclosed details about the medical issue or which astronaut was affected, though the agency noted that the issue was not an emergency and not COVID-19-related.

Now, the mission is finally set to launch at 9:03 p.m. ET on Wednesday, reaching the ISS on Thursday evening.

Watch SpaceX fly to the space station live

NASA plans to broadcast the entire Crew-3 journey to the ISS live online, starting with the Falcon 9 rocket launch and ending after the Crew Dragon capsule docks to its ISS port. The journey will take about 24 hours.

The livestream will appear on NASA TV, embedded below, beginning at 4:45 p.m. ET on Wednesday.

This Crew Dragon capsule, which the Crew-3 astronauts have named "Endurance," will be the first to fly with SpaceX's latest toilet upgrade. Last month, the company discovered that urine from the capsule's toilet had leaked in two of its Crew Dragons - one that flew tourists around Earth for three days, and one that was docked to the ISS until it brought its crew back to Earth last weekend.

In both cases, a toilet tube came loose then leaked pee all over a compartment beneath the cabin floor. The urine didn't enter the cabin, so the people inside didn't notice the issue. SpaceX representatives say the company has upgraded that tube to prevent future leaks.

If everything goes according to plan - as it did for SpaceX's three prior ISS flights - the rocket will first roar towards space, giving Endurance the push it needs to insert itself into Earth's orbit.

The astronauts will have time to eat, sleep, enjoy their new views, and prepare for arrival as the spaceship lines up with the ISS.

Thursday evening, as the space station comes into view, Endurance will fire its thrusters to slowly push itself towards a docking port, latching onto the station at 7:10 p.m. ET. The spaceship is fully automated, so nobody needs to manually drive if it operates as expected.

Astronauts on the Crew Dragon and the ISS will then conduct a nearly two-hour sealing and leak-checking process before opening the hatch that connects the station to the spaceship. Then Crew-3 will float into the space station, at about 8:45 p.m. ET. The three people currently on the ISS will likely crowd around to greet them - a reunion that's often full of broad smiles and upside-down hugs.

The ISS crew is sparse right now because SpaceX's last mission, Crew-2, returned to Earth on Monday. Those astronauts climbed back aboard their Crew Dragon capsule, plummeted through the atmosphere, and parachuted to an ocean landing. They were originally supposed to overlap with Crew-3 for a few days, but because of the Crew-3 delays they ended up returning before the new astronauts could launch.

Crew-3 will make a similar return trip in about six months. That means Marshburn, Chari, Barron, and Maurer will be on the ISS for an array of historic spaceflight events to come.

Over the next six months, NASA is set to launch the James Webb Space Telescope, which is expected to revolutionize astronomy; SpaceX plans to fly tourists to the ISS for the first time; and NASA aims to launch the first moon mission of its Artemis program.

In the meantime, China is continuing to construct its own space station. The first module is already orbiting Earth, with astronauts on board.

"We have a lot of exciting things planned, from spacewalks to science experiments to visitors, with the private astronaut missions and spaceflight participants. So it's kind of a dream mission for a rookie flyer to be joining such an experienced crew aboard the space station," Barron said.

This story has been updated with new information. It was originally published October 28, 2021.