WASHINGTON — The launch of the next commercial crew mission to the International Space Station, already postponed by weather, has been further delayed by what NASA calls a “minor medical issue” with one of its four astronauts.
NASA announced Nov. 1 that the launch, which had been scheduled for just after 1 a.m. Eastern Nov. 3, had been rescheduled to no earlier than Nov. 6 at 11:36 p.m. Eastern. Both the Crew Dragon spacecraft and its Falcon 9 rocket are in good condition at Launch Complex 39A at the Kennedy Space Center.
In a brief statement, the agency said that the delay is “due to a minor medical issue involving one of its crew members. The issue is not a medical emergency and not related to COVID-19.” The agency did not identify the specific issue or person who is suffering it. Medical confidentiality regulations typically preclude NASA from disclosing that information.
The agency used similar language in August when it postponed an ISS spacewalk involving NASA astronaut Mark Vande Hei and Japanese astronaut Akihiko Hoshide. That spacewalk, planned for Aug. 24, was postponed a day before “due to a minor medical issue involving Vande Hei. This issue is not a medical emergency.”
Vande Hei, in a tweet the next day, disclosed he had a pinched nerve in his neck. “Today just wasn’t the right day,” he wrote. The spacewalk went ahead with ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet replacing Vande Hei.
None of the four Crew-3 astronauts have discussed the delay in social media. ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer tweeted Nov. 1 a photo of himself on a beach with a bag of trash. “I’ve been relaxing during my quarantine by collecting rubbish on the beach,” he said in the tweet accompanying the undated photo.
I've been relaxing during my quarantine by collecting rubbish on the beach 😳 Sadly, this is not the only bag I filled. We really need to think about our environmental impact on Earth and in space. Clean oceans, clean space! It's up to all of us. 🌍 pic.twitter.com/yELcONkolA
— Matthias Maurer (@astro_matthias) November 1, 2021
In addition to Maurer, the Crew-3 mission will send to the ISS NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Tom Marshburn and Kayla Barron. All four have been in quarantine since Oct. 16, two weeks before the original launch date for the mission. The launch slipped from Oct. 30 to 31 to allow additional processing time for the mission, and then again to Nov. 3 because of poor weather at downrange abort splashdown locations in the Atlantic Ocean.
The delay in the launch of Crew-3 will also push back the return of the four Crew-2 astronauts currently on the station. NASA said in its statement that is continuing to evaluate dates for that mission’s return to Earth on the Crew Dragon spacecraft currently docked there.
An extended delay could force Crew-2 to return home before Crew-3 launches. NASA said in the statement that mission managers “are reviewing options including both direct and indirect handovers for the upcoming crew rotation.” A direct handover is when the next crew arrives before the previous crew departs, as was the case for Crew-2 arrival at the ISS in April before the Crew-1 astronauts returned home at the beginning of May. An indirect handover would have the Crew-2 astronauts leave first, reducing the station to three people temporarily until Crew-3 arrives.
This is the first time in more than 30 years that a NASA mission has been delayed because of a medical issue. In 1990, the launch of the STS-36 shuttle mission was postponed three days when its commander, John Creighton, was diagnosed with a cold.