Cape Canaveral (Florida) – Finally lifted off!
The countdown sounded at 3:03 a.m. Central European Time (9:03 p.m. local time). “Ten-Nine-Eight-Seven-Six-Five-Four-Three-Two-One” lift-off!
The Falcon-9’s nine Merlin 1D engines were fired. A bright ball of fire lit up in the darkness. The SpaceX rocket with the German astronaut Matthias Maurer (51) and his three colleagues in a top-mounted “Crew Dragon” space capsule (total height 63 meters) finally lifted off from the NASA spaceport in Cape Canaveral (US state Florida) .
BILD witnessed the spectacular start in the Kennedy Space Center. During the “Crew-3” mission, Maurer became the first German astronaut on board a SpaceX flight. The destination: the “International Space Station” (ISS).
The last two weeks before the planned start were riddled with delays: First a storm low over Ohio. Then the illness of a crew member. Lastly, bringing forward the landing of other space travelers, coupled with other weather problems. Seldom has there been such a series of bad luck before the start of an astronaut team. Matthias Maurer (51) from Saarland really had to show an extra dose of patience to be the twelfth German to fly into space today.
Astronaut Maurer and his colleagues will stay on the ISS for six months – and carry out experiments. The three NASA astronauts Raja Chari (commander), Thomas H. Marshburn and Kayla Barron sit next to the German spaceman of the European Space Agency (ESA) during the flight. Apropos Esa: With “Cosmic Kiss” (Cosmic Kiss) she chose a far more poetic title for the mission. NASA remained rather boringly factual: The all-adventure is run as “SpaceX Crew-3”.
A certificate of 28,000 kilometers per hour was achieved in less than ten minutes. The space travelers were pressed into their seats with three times the force of gravity (3-G). Maurer wanted to hear music while doing it. On his “Playlist”: “Lose Yourself” (Eminem), “Levitating” (Dua Lipa, DaBaby), “Thunder” (Imagine Dragons) and “No Scrubs” (TLC).
The Falcon-9 rocket developed a thrust of 690 kilonewtons. The engines burned for three minutes until an altitude of around one hundred kilometers was reached. After the separation of the first rocket stage – which made its way to the cargo on a remote-controlled floating landing platform with the humorous name “Just Read The Instructions” – the “Merlin 1C Vacuum” engine of the second stage ignited. It fired for six minutes. After that, the “Crew Dragon” space capsule “Endurance” was launched into an earth orbit. Docking with the ISS is planned for Friday, 1:10 a.m. German time. The hatch opens an hour and a half later.
It is the fifth manned all-flight of the space company owned by tech billionaire Elon Musk (50) – after the maiden flight in May 2020. It will take off from the legendary Launch Complex 39A (LC-39A) of the Kennedy Space Center. This is where the Apollo moon missions once started.
Maurer is to carry out the experiments coordinated by the “German Aerospace Center” (DLR) in the Columbus module of the ISS, which orbits the earth at an altitude of 420 kilometers. Test series with concrete and metals are planned. “I like the melting of metals”, he said before the flight: “We have the electromagnetic levitation furnace in the European module, in which we can heat metal samples and let them float completely without contact”. After heating, you could “see the viscosity, measure all the different parameters and then cool it down,” says the materials researcher. Outdoor use (“space walk”) should also be planned.
SpaceX’s “pee” problems had recently made headlines: The toilet in the Dragon capsule of the previous team (“Crew-2”) broke. The four astronauts who splashed into the sea in the Gulf of Mexico at the weekend had to ride the hell out of the atmosphere in diapers.
However, the toilet in the capsule of the crew with mason had been repaired. Nevertheless, the quartet was given a run-in before the start: “So that we don’t have to go to the toilet for the next 24 hours, that’s very important, then you can fly a little more relaxed,” explained Maurer.
With the flight he became the twelfth German in space, the fourth on the ISS and the first to fly there with a “Crew Dragon”. And another round number: The Saarlander became the 600th person in space since the beginning of manned space travel.
The last time a German Esa astronaut was in space was Alexander Gerst (45) in 2018, he completed a total of two missions to the ISS. How does an astronaut feel during the countdown? “You become more relaxed the closer you get to the start, because less and less can get in the way,” he describes a paradox to BILD. With total focusing it also helps that “every minute is clocked through”. He doesn’t consider the fact that the mission was finally postponed by ten days to be too big a break in the leg: “The astronauts trained for almost two years and hardly had any vacation, so those days of waiting where you can relax aren’t that bad , they could also go to the beach. ”Longer delays could trigger psychological stress.
Are you afraid? Not at the start, says Gerst: “You think about it beforehand and at some point you have to make peace with it yourself, even with your family, you know that it can end badly, there is always this risk!” But in the last few moments you should have your head free in order to be able to concentrate fully.