'It's white-knuckle time:' NASA chief stresses safety for Crew-8 astronaut launch

 People in suits sit at a desk in front of a poster of four astronauts in flight suits and the text "crew-8".
People in suits sit at a desk in front of a poster of four astronauts in flight suits and the text "crew-8".

CAPE CANAVERAL, Florida — NASA leadership stressed safety above all else as the agency's Crew-8 mission to the International Space Station (ISS) prepares for launch.

Crew-8 will send three NASA astronauts and one Roscosmos cosmonaut to the ISS atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Liftoff is currently scheduled for Friday (March 1) at 12:04 a.m. EST (0504 GMT). You can watch it live here at Space.com when the time comes.

In a press briefing at Kennedy Space Center here today (Feb. 28), NASA Administrator Bill Nelson underscored that the agency's first priority remains safety, no matter how routine commercial launches with SpaceX may appear to the public.

"Every time we launch, it's white-knuckle time — and especially when humans are on top," Nelson told reporters during the briefing. "We never want to get in to the frame of mind that it's so routine that it's like getting in your car and taking a Sunday afternoon drive."

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Nelson said that the routine "frame of mind" contributed to the space shuttle Challenger disaster in 1986, in which seven astronauts lost their lives.

Crew-8 will mark the fifth flight of the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule Endeavour, making it the current "fleet leader," according to Steve Stich, manager of NASA's Commercial Crew Program.


SpaceX, NASA 'go' to launch Crew-8 astronaut mission to ISS on March 1

SpaceX rolls out rocket, capsule for Crew-8 astronaut launch (photos)

SpaceX fires up rocket ahead of March 1 astronaut launch (photos)

During today's briefing, Stich elaborated on current discussions the program is having centered around possibly extending the number of flights for which Crew Dragon is rated from five to 15, stating that SpaceX will examine Endeavour component by component after its Crew-8 flight to help teams make that determination.

As part of the focus on safety for Crew-8, mission managers are watching a few different weather systems off the Florida coast that could force a launch delay from the current schedule.

Stich described the current weather outlook as "marginal," and added that mission teams will continue to evaluate the weather forecast up until launch time.