Countdown to Crew-3: What to expect when astronauts launch with SpaceX

SpaceX is ready to launch four astronauts Wednesday at 9:03 p.m. ET from Kennedy Space Center.

On Crew-3 launch day at NASA's Kennedy Space Center, SpaceX and NASA teams will begin the day hours before the actual liftoff as they prepare to send four humans into space on top of the Falcon 9 rocket.

SpaceX is scheduled to launch four astronauts as part of the Crew-3 mission to the International Space Station on Wednesday at 9:03 p.m. ET.

NASA astronauts Raja Chari, Kayla Barron and Tom Marshburn, and European Space Agency astronaut Matthias Maurer arrived at KSC late last month ahead of their Falcon 9 rocket launch. The crew has been waiting for over a week to begin their journey to the space station after facing multiple weather delays and one minor medical issue.

On Monday, the four astronauts part of the Crew-2 mission returned to Earth after completing nearly 200 days in space. Dragon Endeavour splashed down off Florida's west coast.

When it happens, liftoff kicks off a six-month stay in space for the astronauts where they'll be conducting science and research on the orbiting laboratory.

The weather for the instantaneous window is looking good as cool and dry conditions are moving in around the Space Coast. The 45th Weather Squadron's latest forecast indicates a 70% chance of favorable launch conditions.

Here's a breakdown of the Crew-3 launch timeline with estimated times for critical moments in the countdown:


4:45 p.m. ET Live coverage begins

About 4 hours before liftoff, NASA and SpaceX will begin their live broadcast of the countdown. Around this time, the crew will have eaten their last Earth meal for a while and will be putting on spacesuits.

Weather briefing

The 45th Weather Squadron will provide a weather update, and the launch director will conduct a countdown briefing and readiness poll.

T – 3:20 Saying goodbyes 

The four astronauts will walk out of the KSC Operations and Checkout Building (O &C), where they will have a few minutes to wave goodbye and say a few words to their family and friends outside.

T – 3:15 Drive to 39A

In pairs, the astronauts will get into two Teslas and then make the drive to KSC launchpad 39A, where the Falcon 9 and Crew Dragon spacecraft will be waiting.

The astronauts get to pick out the playlist for the 10-minute drive to the launchpad. Chari, the mission commander, shared on Twitter a list of the song choices including "Welcome to the Jungle" by Guns n Roses and "Starship" by Nicki Minaj. 

After arriving at the launch site, the crew will go up the launch tower into the white room. At the top, they will have a few minutes to sign the wall like the other astronauts to launch with SpaceX have. They will also have time to use the red phone at the top of the tower to make a final call.

T – 2:35 Strap in for launch 

SpaceX teams will help the astronauts get into the Crew Dragon Endurance. They will be strapped in for launch before the hatch closes. Their custom seats will be rotated for launch position, and final suit leak checks will also be happening at this time.

SpaceX will close the spacecraft hatch and then check it's secured and no "foreign object debris" prevents a tight seal.

T-45 minutes: Final polls before fueling

Another weather update happens before rocket fueling. If the weather is "no go," this could delay the launch. The mission director will also conduct a final poll before giving the OK to load fuel into the Falcon 9.

T-40 minutes to launch: Dragon escape system arms

The Dragon spacecraft escape system is armed. If there is a problem during the launch, the escape system will send the spacecraft away from the rocket, and the Dragon will land at sea, carrying the astronauts to safety. The system has to be armed before fueling can begin.

T-35 minutes: Falcon 9 fueling begins

At about T-minus 2 minutes, the rocket propellant load will be complete, and the vehicle will be on internal power.

9:03:30 p.m. Liftoff!

Falcon 9 lifts off from Kennedy Space Center with the Crew Dragon spacecraft carrying the four Crew-3 astronauts.

The spacecraft will begin approaching and dock at the space station Thursday around 7 p.m. 

If Wednesday's launch scrubs, another launch window opens Thursday night.