Featured Image Source: NASA / Suit Up Rehearsal January 2020
Last week, NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley conducted final training inside of a SpaceX Crew Dragon craft simulator at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, in preparation for the historic Demo-2 mission that will ignite a new era in American spaceflight. NASA has not performed manned missions to space, ever since the Space Shuttle Program ended in 2011. SpaceX is set to make history on May 27th, a Falcon 9 rocket will lift off at 4:32 p.m. carrying Behnken and Hurley on a voyage to the International Space Station (ISS) aboard the upgraded Crew Dragon spacecraft.
SpaceX released an online Dragon simulator game that is similar to what astronauts used to train for the mission. The interactive simulator allows players to try to dock the Crew Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station, using similar controls the astronauts will use during their first trip. “Crew Dragon missions will autonomously dock and undock with the space station, but crew can take manual control of the spacecraft if necessary,” SpaceX stated.
Crew Dragon demonstrated its capabilities when it docked autonomously to the orbiting laboratory last year, during the uncrewed Demo-1 mission. Now, Behnken and Hurley will attempt to pilot the craft manually for a few moments during Demo-2. “The Demo-2 flight is an end-to-end test of SpaceX’s crew transportation system, part of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program,” the agency stated. The test aims to demonstrate that Dragon can safely and reliably transport humans to space. If all goes well, SpaceX will earn a certification to carry out frequent crewed operational missions.
This week, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine shared Behnken and Hurley officially entered a preflight quarantine period ahead of the historic SpaceX mission. “Due to the coronavirus pandemic, people all over the world recently have experienced varying degrees of quarantine – a period of isolation from others to prevent the spread of contagious illness. However, for crews getting ready to launch, ‘flight crew health stabilization’ is a routine part of the final weeks before liftoff for all missions to the space station,” the agency explained. “Health stabilization procedures were introduced for the Apollo program, in which NASA astronauts left low-Earth orbit to journey to the Moon, and have continued through the shuttle and International Space Station programs.”
Today @AstroBehnken and @Astro_Doug began their quarantine, moving us one step closer to the launch of @SpaceX's Demo-2 mission to @Space_Station targeted for May 27! More: https://t.co/24A8tozrtX pic.twitter.com/qihR5vnjO1— Jim Bridenstine (@JimBridenstine) May 13, 2020
NASA and SpaceX are taking extra precautions amid the coronavirus outbreak. “Spending the final two weeks before liftoff in quarantine helps ensure the Demo-2 crew arrives healthy, protecting themselves and their colleagues already on the station,” NASA said. During this period, astronauts will remain isolated in a special room to monitor their health and ensure they do not contract any illnesses before embarking on a voyage to space. During quarantine, astronauts will only be allowed to interact with a few family members and mission-essential personnel who will constantly receive medical screenings. “We’re already in quarantine with our families, and we plan to continue that,” Astronaut Behnken shared. “NASA has a plan to get our families to Kennedy in a quarantined fashion, and then to allow us to continue to see each other.”
“Hurley and Behnken, as well as those in direct, close contact with the crew will be tested twice for the virus as a precaution.”
NASA said in a press release, anyone who directly interacts with them will have their temperature taken and be screened for any symptoms of COVID-19, the respiratory illness coronavirus.
The quarantine period will last 2 weeks, they will rest inside a special quarantine room at Johnson Space Center in Texas, then privately fly on a NASA aircraft to Florida on May 20th to perform final launch preparations at the Kennedy Space Center.
The Kennedy Space Center will remain closed to the public for this historic mission that was expected to draw thousands of crowds. The first crewed flight launched from American soil in a decade, sure comes at a time when the nation needs a glimmer of hope and inspiration. The agency is encouraging the public to watch the launch Live on NASA TV website, and share virtually via social media using the hashtag #LaunchAmerica.